Young Guns 18: Debora Cheyenne

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie Posted on Nov 18, 2020

Highlighting the creative superstars that make up the class of Young Guns 18

2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year, but fortunately, the spirit of creativity can't be dampened. Want proof? Check out the winners of Young Guns 18!

Beginning with our largest and most diverse jury in history, acclaimed creatives from across the globe spent three months reviewing hundreds of submissions from insanely talented young professionals seeking validation for all of their hard work. After narrowing down the field to 83 top-notch finalists, the jury engaged in virtual discussion and debate, deciding who will win one of the most career-impacting honors in our industry.

In the end, we are honored to present the 31 incredible winners of Young Guns 18, a diverse collection of artists, filmmakers, animators, designers, illustrators, and others, all of them representing some of the very best that their fields have to offer.

We invite you to learn about all 31 Young Guns 18 winners in this series of interviews.







When did Young Guns first pop up on your radar?

I discovered Young Guns while working at Buck, and I was really impressed with everyone selected in the competition.

You're a first-time entrant — congrats! What made you enter this year?

I never thought I could win Young Guns, so I never really considered entering. Someone from work recommended me so I tried it out! I still cannot really believe I was selected.

Young Guns is as much an exercise in self-curation as it is in sheer creative talent. After all, you are only allowed to submit six projects. How did you go about deciding which pieces to submit and which to leave out?

I wanted to show work that is important to me– work that has meaning and layers, but also work that is part of my focus upon diversity and representation. Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to be able to pursue those topics through my professional work, alongside my personal work. The selection of pieces was not a difficult process, as all the projects I submitted really reflect my identity. I didn't feel like it could be any other way.

What went through your mind when you discovered that you won, knowing how difficult it is to make it into Young Guns?

I was shocked! I still am... My style has always felt weird, different, but not in the right way, not in a way that would please a large audience. I read the email four to five times, thinking I was just not understanding right. I feel honored, but also very shy about it!

If you had to pick one of the six projects that you entered as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

"Rebirth" is one of my favorite projects/pieces. I originally had this idea for a T-shirt design that I would sell and then redistribute the money towards the black mum bail out funds– right after the George Floyd protests happened, and Nasdaq contacted me for a piece for Juneteenth. Everything went really fast, though I was happy to share a hopeful image, after seeing so much triggering imagery of black death in the media.

If you had to describe your creative style, the part of your work that’s most distinctively “you”, what would it be?

My style, I would say is all about color, but also identity, diversity, and strong expressivity. There is something bold to it, though quite sentimental and spiritual at the same time. My style is very me! I am not very good at pretending or matching styles different from my own. I cannot really help but be myself through my work. I am very focused on sensorial experiences in my life, and that comes out in my work pretty clearly I think.

Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career, people who may have had a hand in mentoring and supporting you?

My very good friend Vincent Tsui has always believed in me and pushed me to keep creating. He got me into this industry actually, and I owe him a lot!

Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

I love the work of Alexis Jamet (YG17)– it has been very inspiring to me!

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a pretty crazy year, with a global pandemic and social upheaval shaping so many facets of our lives. Aside from the positive news of winning Young Guns, how has this year been for you?

This year has been very challenging. I am still going through a lot of the thinking and questioning I have been having about the ongoing diversity issues and undercover biases in the creative industries. It makes me quite uncomfortable on a daily basis, and more than the frustration it has given me around those themes, it has also brought me a constant imposteur syndrome, partly due to the clear tokenization happening to black folks in the creative industry (including myself) since the protests. It feels like I have much more responsibilities to perform–less margin for error. I am still hopeful though that the work and dedication I can give will help other people like me in the future. It is a controversial thought but one that pushes me forward.

Name a creative/professional dream that you have yet to fulfill — hey, maybe Young Guns can help propel you in that direction!

Ah! It's so silly but I always dreamt of having at least one of my pieces in a museum. I think that would make me very proud of myself, but also to show to my family. It's a heartwarming thought.

Any last words about winning Young Guns 18 that you'd like to share?

I am very thankful for the space I am given here, and the recognition of my work by such talented people. That means a lot!


"Debora's body of work is splendid. It's very colorful and inspiring, and it speaks volumes. I really like that she's unapologetic about BLACKNESS and that she's not afraid of expressing herself about important topics like politics, social injustice, and social equality."

Giannie Couji
Fashion Stylist & Consultant

"Debora Cheyenne’s work makes me feel fearless. Each piece is an explosion of electric current that wakes you up and zaps you out of the mundane. The stunning play between space, shapes, and color creates a curiosity so visceral, that wonder would radiate through your system. You will find yourself wishing the pages she creates on weren’t limited so that you can keep discovering what’s beyond the frames."

Gracia Lam
Young Guns 8 Winner

"Debora’s diverse breadth of work truly amazes me and makes me want to dig deeper into her ethereal world. Her take on afro-futurism and fantasy is captivating and brings a fresh new perspective that’s needed in the world of Illustration. Her use of vibrant colors and interesting textures instantly draws me in and I love that her artistic visions always carries through, no matter the medium."

Jade Purple Brown



Make sure to check out all the Young Guns 18 Winners in the archive!

Young Guns 18 Archive



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