On Tuesday, the Black Lady Art Group joined Elizabeth S. Humphrey ’14 to discuss creating art as Black women at a predominantly white institution. The self-led art class and collective, composed of Amina Sillah ’20, Amani Hite ’20 and Destiny Kearney ’21, served as a safe space for artmaking on campus.
During the talk on Zoom, hosted by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the three artists walked attendees through their respective artistic journeys and highlighted the ways that their creative practices are informed by their experiences at Bowdoin. Despite the difference in medium, Sillah’s photography, Kearney’s paintings and Hite’s videography, were all united in a common theme: finding a sense of belonging.
“I think one of the major goals at the end of the course was to produce works that, throughout the semester, would be displayed in highly populated areas around campus,” Kearney said. “That will force the student body to engage with the themes and concepts that came out of the work.”
During her presentation, Sillah, who founded the group as a part of her work under her Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, highlighted an untitled multimedia piece that she created during her senior thesis project.
Sillah believes that this portrait encapsulates the crux of much of the Black Lady Art Group’s intention.
“People look at it, and it looks very visually appealing: it looks pretty, it’s sparkly, it’s glittery,” Sillah said. “Then, once people look more into it, they realize it really is violent, [and there is] traumatic stuff behind it.”
Engaging with and creating Black art in a predominantly white environment was one of the primary reasons for the group’s founding. This environmental impetus was highlighted by Hite, whose semester away at Spelman College in Atlanta changed the way she viewed her own art.
“It gave me free range to be more experimental because I was comfortable in that space, versus being at Bowdoin. Sometimes, I would take into perspective my audience, and how they would feel about things,” Hite said. “It wasn’t until I actually came back to Bowdoin in my senior year that I had no regrets about anything that I was doing. I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do what I want to do because this is my art.’”
During the Q&A session, Sillah offered a similarly honest perspective on her experience developing an understanding of the ways that her art is perceived.
“I remember being terrified of critiques in my art classes—not because I doubted my technique, but really, because I was nervous about how my peers would really interact with my artwork,” Sillah said. “I know this is something that a lot of other students, predominantly students of color, or students of other minoritized identities experience—that sometimes you feel like people don’t really engage with your artwork when it feels really political or it feels like it goes against the grain.”
Although the collective may have dispersed following the trio’s graduation from the College, they all are still creating art, either full- or part-time.
“I have to make stuff for me,” Kearney said in response to a question about her current creative process, 6 months after graduating. “There’s freedom and beauty in having that agency to really create stuff that’s coming from you,” she said.