A part of my “Black Joy and Healing” series, this piece was inspired by the book Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany M. Gill. The book brings to surface the hidden history of Black Beauticians who used their shops as a site for community gatherings and their earnings to support Black Liberation movements and its pioneers. Through the business of hair, these Black women achieved economic independence and created a community that puts in focus the empowerment of the Black race.
“Only the BLACK WOMAN can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me’” Anna Julia Cooper.
This piece explores the idea of community healing through the creation and well-being of Black women.
Reflection on the exhibition Young, Gifted, and Black:
The idea of having a workshop on the theme of identity and community came to me while viewing Blue Dancer by Tunji Adeniyi Jones. Every time I go to the gallery, I stop by that piece, the colors, the shape of the figure, the movement, they all feel so organic to me! I was so in love with that piece (I still am), I did a sketch of it in my sketchbook and used it as my artist study for my self-portrait painting. Sketching this piece allowed me to engage and decipher it; it felt like a puzzle—I love puzzles and I think it makes sense that I saw it as that: a puzzle—every piece carefully and intentionally crafted to create this beautiful piece. Something that stood out to me in this process was how the movements within the figure and outside of it are in sync with the form of the figure. I was trying to figure out which of the motion was impacting the other and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When I finished the figure and was working on the surroundings, that’s when I had my “lightbulb moment”; it is not one or the other, it is both together, working at the same time, and having an impact on each other. That made me think of myself and my environment, how both work together and are equally important to the person I am and becoming. That’s when I knew what the workshop should be about.
Expanding on the idea of puzzles, one thing I realized interacting with the pieces from the exhibition is that every part is crucial to the work; from the intention of the artist to the objects in the work, everything matters. I have seen physical works of art in the past but never one by a Black artist and with a piece that’s calling me to decipher it; I have only seen them online and the viewing experience is totally different. Viewing these in person taught me that to create a great visual art piece is not just about the medium and the surface used, it’s that in addition to the artist’s relation to the piece. This realization, I believe, helped me improve my own craft. Although multilingual, words are not my forte, art is. And seeing these works speak to me made it possible for me to use art as my pen and paper. For me, art is a tool to tell a story, my story, the story of the women in my life and the women who are a part of the great Black women community.
Header image and photos courtesy of Deirdre Murphy