More than Representation: Black Women Artists as Change Agents
By Tiffany LaTrice, Executive Director- TILA Studios
Recently, TILA Studios hosted a reading room with Spelman College Museum of Fine Art at the AUC Woodruff Library to facilitate a discussion on Deborah Willis’ book, Posing Beauty. The dialogue was focused on unpacking the power of images as the book explores the ways in which African American and African beauty have been represented in historical and contemporary contexts through a diverse range of mediums such as photography, film, video, art and fashion. Wills categorizes her book into three thematic sections: Constructing a Pose, Body and Image, and Modeling Beauty and Beauty Contests. One of the first questions that I posed to the audience was “When were you first introduced to the word beauty.” A simple but telling question as the responses alluded that beauty was never something that was self-constructed, or a term used in their respective households but imposed by others.
Whenever you find yourself at an art exhibit or at a museum, ask yourself what stories the images, sculptures, or paintings are telling you about the world in which we live. If the story is one-dimensional, don’t be afraid to ask yourself, what is missing. Diverse representation is imperative, and I believe that black women artists are the ones at the forefront of challenging western notions of beauty and history.
I would like to leave you with five reasons why representation matters:
- When everyone has characters or images they can relate to or empathize with it allows us to foster a deeper understanding of ourselves.
- It helps us to embrace our culture because erasure is real, and history has more often than not left us out of the narrative.
- When art confronts the issues of gender, race, sexuality and body politics, we are able to feel seen and heard.
- It’s realistic. Let’s be honest, the world does not look like a Victoria Secrets model. So, it’s more realistic and honest when we see people who embody us.
- It’s important for everyone to see themselves because it teaches self-love, it fosters empathy and understanding which in turns foster changes.
For those of you that haven’t visited Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Zanele’s exhibition is on view until December 8. The museum is open Mondays – Fridays, 10 – 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 12 – 4 p.m.
Featured photo top: Credit Spelman College Museum of Fine Art