Ashley Nora’s cup is so full, it’s running over. Three years ago, she took a leap of faith and quit her day job as an analytical chemist to pursue her life-long dream of being an artist. Since then, she’s been filling everyone’s cup with her excess. A self-proclaimed dreamer and manifester, she’s made it look easy, but it hasn’t been. Here is just a glimpse into her story:
Ashley was the first artist interviewed for the new column, Local Legends, so she had a packed interview. Natalya Herndon and Taylor Hurt were also a part of the conversation, we talked about art, impact, and all things joy.
Emily Sogard (ES): Tell us about yourself.
Ashely Nora (AN): I grew up in poverty in Laurel, MS, I had nothing. After hurricane Katrina I moved up here with my mom to Anderson, IN. I worked really hard, got degrees, so I could make enough money to live the American dream, at least I thought. I had it all, but I wasn’t happy.
ES: So, three years ago, you made the transition, how did that happen?
AN: Art saved my life. I grew up in a very traumatic household, and the only reason I am here today is because I had art to escape. In 2019, I was at a low point, so I went back to art, the very thing that saved my life before, the very thing that brought me joy.
ES: How did you get involved in the Black Lives Matter Mural?
AN: In 2020, everyone was in the streets. I thought, this is Indiana, home of the KKK--we are never, ever, going to get a Black Lives Matter mural. But if we do, I am going to be the first one to sign up. Remember, at that time, I had only been painting for, like, a year. I was just doing paint parties, getting in where I fit in, working so hard. Everyone kept tagging me in the post calling for muralists. I messaged Mali on Instagram, practically begging. I didn’t mind. I wanted to be a part of this. She responded, “Okay, what letter do you want?”
NH: You’ve painted 16 large-scale murals in Indianapolis in the last two years. Why is public art important to you?
AN: Growing up I lived five minutes away from the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, but I never went in. The only access that I had to art was free public art, murals. Public art is for everyone. Yes, this [the IMA] is beautiful, this is great, this is every artist's dream, but as a muralist, I’m thinking about the little Ashleys, who may not be exposed to this. That’s why murals are so important to me. It’s a way to make people feel seen. I want everyone to know, I see you.
ES: You don’t just work in murals, though, tell us about your other work.
AN: I don’t like to be put in a box. I am inspired by European art, especially Michelangelo. He couldn’t be put in a box either. He was a muralist, a sculptor, and a painter. I am influenced heavily by the Rennaissance, and like to place modern people into the style, but overall I have to be moved by emotion.
Taylor Hurt (TH): Tell us about Nobuhle, your painting in We. The Culture.
AN: This was the first painting I did after a life-changing trip to Swaziland, where I was commissioned to paint a mural. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like the minority. It made me think about being Black in Black spaces, and the comfort that brings. Nobuhle is the first in a series exploring descendants of Africa in white spaces.
NH: When I first saw this painting, I felt so proud.
AN: Impact. That’s what it’s all about. How you make people feel. I don’t paint pain, you know, we have enough of that. When you look at my work. I want you to feel love, I want you to feel joy, I want you to feel seen, I want you to feel something good.
TH: What would you tell 7-year-old Ashley if you could speak with her?
AN: If you really want this, you have to work, you have to have faith. There will be sacrifices, sleepless nights, and there will be nos. Don’t let those nos define you. Keep going until you get that yes. And when you get that yes, you better show up for yourself and you better give it the best you have inside of you. Because that yes is going to open up the next yes. Nothing is too small.
ES: What’s next?
AN: I am in a beautiful position, this is my life, and it’s just the start, it’s just the beginning.
You can see Ashley Nora’s oil painting, Nobuhle, in We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields through September 24, 2023.
If you are in Indianapolis, you have probably seen some of her murals:
Jiffy Lube-Into Existence
Clay Terrace Mall-Hand of God
Monument Circle-Soaring Possibilities
Cumberland Street Mural Lions Park-…The possibilities
Big Brothers Big Sisters-Untitled
Follow her on Instagram @ashleynora_art too!
We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective is presented by Aaron Wealth Advisors, Gary & Hannah Hirschberg. Lead support is provided by Rachel M. Simon & the Herbert Simon Family Foundation and June McCormack. Associate support is provided by IceMiller and its Racial Equity Solutions Team. Additional support is provided by Judy Donner, Nathan & Deborah Oatts, and Emily A. West.