Us Too

The Dallas Examiner

African American women continue the fight today to be respected and acknowledged for their many talents and contributions to society.

Last year, singer Bette Midler compared women to the “N-word” in a Twitter post after she got angry at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women.

The tweet sparked questions and conversations within the Black community, leading one Black woman to ask, “Ain’t I a woman?”

The racist tweet encouraged local African American women to speak up and create their own empowerment movement through art, called “#UsToo Phenomenal Women.”

Also, after L’Daijohnique Lee, an African American woman, was beaten in Deep Ellum recently, the public pressured officials to upgrade the charges.

Both circumstances encouraged the community to have a conversation and tackle the issue of decimation as well.

Artist and curator Jennifer Cowley led the way, along with 20 other local African American female visual artists, in an artistic exhibition highlighting their artistry at the African American Museum. The exhibit debuted Feb. 16 and runs until May 31.

“The purpose of the exhibition is to give African American female artists an opportunity to show their work and to basically have their voices heard as an African American woman,” said Cowley, who was asked to curate an exhibition for female artists.

“I did not want it to be just a retrospect, I wanted it to have some umph, and it just so happened at the same time that Brett Kavanaugh was being confirmed as Supreme Court Justice and Bette Midler made a statement that women are the N-word of the world. When she made that statement, she was being unintentionally racist. When she stated it, she was quoting a John Lennon and Yoko Ono song from the 1970s. … African American women have been called the N-word numerous times, White women have not, so for her to make that statement is an insult to African American women in particular.”

According to Cowley, a journalist said the exhibit was based on Sojourner Truth’s speech.

“I then changed that to ‘#UsToo Phenomenal Women’ because I wanted to celebrate the awesomeness of being an African American woman that just like any other woman, we want to celebrate no matter what your racial makeup is,” she said.

The exhibition also features empowerment music by African American female artists, artwork made of quilt, paintings, and print and digital photography.

“There are many challenges that African American women face in today’s society,” Cowley said. “First of all, we experience disrespect and our voice is not being heard. For instance, the beating of the African American woman in Deep Ellum, it took forever for them to prosecute this man and he was not held accountable right away, and that is troublesome.”

One artistic piece of Cowley’s, called Beyond the Breast and Straight to the Heart, highlights body image.

“What women should do with their bodies, Beyond the Breast and Straight to the Heart, is a body print which depicts the breast and a piece that says look past my exterior and look straight to my heart,” she said.

Tyra Goodley, another African American female artist, also took part in the exhibit. She created a piece called Bus Stop.

“Bus Stop is the epitome of the current Black family,” Goodley said. “It depicts a single mother with her child at a bus stop, which is a pivotal place for her. This is a place she has to call on all forces of nature and inner energy and strength to help her family move forward. In this artwork, the mother looks weary, and she is undefeated and has a host of support emerging from her hair, which looks like braids. But with a closer look, all the many women and support that she has had to call on become visible, which includes her grandmother, mother, aunt, sisters and close friends that help give her the strength to fortify herself in a Black family.”

She, like several of the Black female artists invited to participate in the exhibit, said she was glad to be asked to participate.

“I am honored to be a part of this. … It is very easy for me to participate in something like this because it is actually my life and part of my lifestyle and the elevation of the woman, particularly the Black woman, is a necessity for the shift and paradigm of the universe. We are the silent heroes that are rising to the occasion to continue to heal the earth and to make it a better place.”

Goodley honors and credits her ancestors for making it possible to do the work she does today.

“First of all, people should come to understand that this is not an easy feat to do,” she said. “Yet it is still attainable and it is because of the strength of our ancestors and those that have paved the way for us that we are able to have such a strong voice and a necessary voice in our times. So, I think after viewing the exhibit, people will leave with a better feeling of understanding of who the Black woman is and why her voice is important.”

She believes the exhibit also unifies Black women as well.

“I wanted to not only give African American female artists an opportunity but also to let them know that we all have a seat at the table,” she said. “This is not a competition. We have a place where all of our light is shining brightly and that we are all sisters in this and that we are not dimming it for anybody.”

Cowley and Goodley both agree that there are still challenges of being an African American female artist.

“Disrespect and not having our voices heard because it is a male-dominated field are some of the challenges we face,” Cowley said. “Throughout history, African American women have been seen as being at the bottom of the totem pole. We are doing things because we want our voices heard and we want respect. We have lots to say and we are not going anywhere.”

Another artist involved in the exhibit is Evita Tezeno.

“Black female artists are not represented in the community like everyone else is,” she said. “It is more of a male-dominated society. This exhibit is a marvelous vehicle to show what we are made of as a Black female artist.”

Tezeno is a print maker and collage artist and has created artwork such as I Am Somebody, which depicts a strong female who has been through a lot. She also created My Heart Belongs to You, which is a piece where a woman is longing for her loved one.

Another popular piece at the exhibit, DADA, was created by artist Missy Burton.

Cowley said the artwork is a photograph that has been printed in leather and is a modern day photo which depicts why one should respect Mammy and everything she has done and not be afraid of Mammy.

“Mammy is standing in this photo, strong and bold, and is a character who led the children,” Cowley said. “She was a slave woman and could be any African American woman during slavery. She was the one who tended to the house, cleaned the house, worked in the fields, fed the children. She was depicted as not being respected and people were ashamed of Mammy because of the way she was depicted with the head rag and big red lips. She put her strong and beautiful here, where she can’t do anything but respect her and not be ashamed of her because she has done a lot.”

One can also view the skin tone art piece where each artist was asked to create a piece that represents their skin tone.

“This piece is called #USTOO Phenomenal Women, which represents all of us, and this art piece will actually be donated to the African American Museum as part of their permanent collection,” Cowley said.

Goodley summarized what the “#USTOO Phenomenal Women” exhibit is all about.

“This show is the embodiment of the majesty of the Black woman in her power,” she concluded.

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