By Bobby Bordelon\r\n\r\nGreenbrier County native and current resident Kelsie Tyson has made waves in West Virginia with her art. Recently, the Tamarack Foundation granted Tyson one of its 2021 Emerging Artist Fellowships for her work celebrating body positivity, fat liberation, and Appalachia itself.\r\n\r\nHeld each year by the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, the fellowship looks to highlight \u201cthriving early-career artists\u201d that \u201cdemonstrate not only a superior level of mastery in their craft, but also the aptitude to become successful professionals leading well-managed creative enterprises.\u201d\r\n\r\nTyson is a Ronceverte native, a graduate of both Greenbrier East High School and Marshall University, current resident of Lewisburg and currently works for the Tamarack in Beckley. Her work highlights body positivity and Appalachia, showing both as something to be proud of and emboldened by.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is like the hardest thing,\u201d Tyson joked after being asked to describe her art. \u201cMy work is all in the realm of fat liberation and body liberation. My research [also looks into] \u2026 the history of labor in Appalachia during the Industrial Revolution, specifically coal mining. People\u2019s labor and their bodies were what helped, and still helps, keep things fast moving in other parts of the country, but then \u2026 we have West Virginia full of coal miners [who] are stereotyped as these lazy, ignorant, uneducated, fat-in-a-bad-way people. My work is [to] let people change their context of the word fat as an adjective [into] something they can describe themselves as, and be comfortable with, instead of this thing that they feel bad about being.\u201d\r\n\r\nOne of her previous exhibits, \u201cGod Is Coming And They Are Fat,\u201d featured massive pillows, each filled with 50 pounds of stuffing, shaped into F, A, and T, and covered in body positive messaging. Tyson explained her favorite works are larger than life, filling entire rooms.\r\n\r\n\u201cMost joy that sparks when I\u2019m working is when I\u2019m working with [materials that are] my size or bigger. \u2026 . I think about my younger self and I want to make work that is a celebration of body, even if I don\u2019t always like myself or like my body. This is going to be bright and colorful, and say \u2018Feed Ur Belly,\u2019 \u2018Hug Ur Belly,\u2019 \u2018Squeeze Ur Belly\u2019 because that touch, feel, and taking care of your body is a part of accepting and being okay with existing in yourself.\u201d\r\n\r\nTyson hopes to get in touch with a locality in Greenbrier County to create a mural celebrating the same themes as her previous works.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_61659" align="alignleft" width="453"]<img class=" wp-image-61659" src="https:\/\/mountainmessenger.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/13\/2021\/04\/89706585_10218783134384016_4251923898263666688_n-300x298.jpg" alt="" width="453" height="450" \/> Tyson and her work[\/caption]\r\n\r\n\u201cI don\u2019t like the white wall gallery in a museum, I don\u2019t think my art will actually be doing anything in those grounds. There has to be some kind of activism in it, some kind of community engagement, or it\u2019s just serving a certain kind of person instead of everybody. \u2026 Now what I want to be is creating a community of people who learn body acceptance and liberation and comfort in themselves. \u2026 Fat liberation, queer liberation, black liberation, all of those things are interconnected because oppessions aren\u2019t separate from one another. They\u2019re all related to the biggest thing, white supremacy.\u201d\r\n\r\nThis even extends to the way people speak and write.\r\n\r\n\u201cI use a lot of slang words [in my work]. Instead of using to, I\u2019ll use the number two regardless when I\u2019m writing. Ur for your. A lot of it goes back to grad school - I had so many people [use big words] to describe things, but they don\u2019t actually know what the words mean. \u2026 I think people classify the way words are written, if they\u2019re misspelled, with someone being uneducated or ignorant or dumb, but it\u2019s not. Those ideas ... are part of how we exclude people from understanding what\u2019s going on politically or what\u2019s around them.\u201d\r\n\r\nDuring the interview with the Mountain Messenger, she explained that even as she knows and combats these \u201celitist\u201d ideas about language, they still hold sway over her and the culture.\r\n\r\n\u201cEven now I\u2019m not talking in my own voice because it\u2019s an interview. I have this country accent and I taught myself to talk without it because I didn\u2019t want to sound stupid, but then when I\u2019m around my family, I talk like this,\u201d Tyson said, the accent returning at the end.\r\n\r\nAs part of the fellowship, Tyson has been in touch with artists from across West Virginia. The Tamarack Foundation, and its executive director Renee Margocee, hopes the program will persuade more of the state\u2019s youth to remain after graduation.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s this big thing to help you make some work, network and establish yourself in West Virginia as an artist,\u201d Tyson said. \u201cI think Renee\u2019s big vision is keeping young people and keeping artists in West Virginia. She just wrote <a href="https:\/\/www.wvgazettemail.com\/opinion\/op_ed_commentaries\/renee-margocee-redefining-wv-through-investment-in-the-arts-opinion\/article_044caf23-16c2-5521-b3ca-04e8be620049.html">this great opinion piece [in the Charleston Gazette-Mail] about how the arts are a way to save West Virginia<\/a>.\u201d\r\n\r\nOne major focus of the recently ended session of the West Virginia Legislature and Governor Jim Justice was seeking to keep young people in the state after they graduate, to build local communities. Margocee\u2019s recent opinion piece highlights local art as one way to build these communities, a vision Tyson shares.\r\n\r\n\u201cGetting this made me realize how many people are working for that in West Virginia and it\u2019s just a matter of us connecting together,\u201d Tyson said. \u201cIt\u2019s really exciting. I\u2019m a first generation college student, so going to college was a big deal, then getting my Masters was a big deal, but I got these degrees in art. Most people want to be a doctor. \u2026 It\u2019s a reaffirmation that being an artist was a good choice.\r\n\r\nA collection of Tyson\u2019s work, including \u201cGod Is Coming And They Are Fat,\u201d can be found on her website, <a href="https:\/\/www.kelsietyson.com\/">www.kelsietyson.com<\/a>, alongside a number of smaller items available for purchase, such as earrings.