With only a few days till the new year, you’ve probably seen an illustration of a Black lady jumping from one year to the next while wearing high heels and holding a bag if you’re on Twitter.
The artwork, which was made by British Ghanaian graphic artist Peniel Enchill, originally went viral in 2014 and continues to do so every year. It’s also become synonymous with the phrase “New year, new me” on Black Twitter.
It became popular again in the middle of the year 2021, this time during the milk crate challenge when people assumed a Black lady completing the task in heels looked like the artwork.
“I did that artwork in hours. It usually takes me a while to finish up an illustration. But I had what I like to call these days a ‘download,’ where you literally see the picture in your mind and it’s just a matter of transferring that image from your mind to the paper. I rarely get that, but that was one of them,” Enchill told BuzzFeed News.
The Sheffield, England-based 29-year-old recalls sharing her artwork to Instagram before the platform’s stories feature was introduced.
“I remember logging back into Instagram and on my main feed, not on my profile, but on my main feed, I just kept swiping and seeing the image that I’ve drawn,” she said. “So these were actual reposts from people that I follow.”
The photograph was quickly reposted by larger outlets, like the Shade Room, and it was all over the internet within hours. Her Instagram following climbed by 40,000 people overnight. However, as her artwork’s fame and reach grew, so did people’s opinions, which were met with memes, reedits, and misogynistic trolling.
“All I could see was the negative. Yes, there was positive feedback, but it was clouded by a lot of negative, and I took it quite personally,” she said.
Enchill’s platform increased, bringing fresh eyes to her whole portfolio, and it took a word of advise from her younger brother for her to see past the small pockets of hostility.
“My brother, being my brother, was like, ‘Why are you upset? Have you seen how many followers you’ve got? Have you seen how many people have seen it? It’s all over Twitter,’” she said. “I think it took me a whole day or two to start seeing the positive sides.”
Enchill now has over 270,000 Instagram followers and can consistently see a spike in growth around this time of year.
Enchill said she believes a new year can be transformative, and she continues to produce special images to commemorate the end of one year and the beginning of another.
She said she was seeking a method to explain that entering the new year is like stepping into a better year as she reflected on her 2014 piece.
“I think I’m still like that,” she said. “I still enter the year exactly like the girl that I drew. Reflecting on the year before, thinking about what I’m trying to achieve in the new year.”
She admitted that seeing her art utilized in a way that she would not have approved of if she had been asked is still difficult. Many of the woman’s memes were misogynistic, and they edited her into negative circumstances involving male relationships.
She also stated that she has been approached about converting her artwork into nonfungible tokens (NFTs), but she is unsure of the benefits.“I don’t think I’ve come to a comfortable place with that yet,” she said. “I might just have to do one to see how I feel about it all, but I’m not 100% sold on the idea yet.”
Enchill’s art frequently depicts black women as protagonists in stories about them defying cultural standards and excessive expectations.
“My focus is particularly on the Black community, with an extra focus of Black women and uplifting, inspiring, creating art for us, by us — speaking about issues that are not really spoken about, and celebrating things that affect us directly,” she said.
She also has a stationery line featuring her artwork, which she hopes to see in major stores one day.
She noted that the artwork for this year is still in the works, but it is inspired by the well-known slogan “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” But that hasn’t stopped others from crafting their own.