According to Malcolm X, “the most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
While this statement was true in 1962, and is arguably still true today, it’s not the case at SOMArts Cultural Center, where the exhibition “The Black Woman is God: Assembly of Gods” is on display. Until Oct. 2, at SOMArts, the Black woman is not disrespected, and she is not neglected. She is revered, examined in glory and illustrated honestly and vulnerably. She is God.
In the show’s fifth year, Melorra Green and Karen Seneferu — its original curators — have taken the initial mission of the exhibit to new heights. What was once meant to give Black female artists a place to share their voices has now become an even more inclusive and interactive space. Green and Seneferu have sought to include more curators and more artists of varying skill and experience levels in this year’s display –– while also expanding the number of community events tied to the exhibit.
The exhibit’s title explicitly states that the Black woman is God, but in no way does the exhibit idealize or mythicize her. Instead, the exhibit and its various installations seek to portray Black women as creators of art and of life.
Kristina Williams, in her piece “We Too, Are Joy,” collected nearly 75 pictures of 14 different Black women and compiled them into a vibrant collage of color and identity. The piece speaks to the great diversity within the Black female community and highlights the subjects not as neglected victims but as grand and exuberant figures. Williams amplified the color in the piece and decorated the images with florals to show these woman as symbols of life, happiness and fulfillment.
“The Black Woman is God” features an alluring and varied collection of photography. Photographer and digital designer Nye’ Lyn Tho displayed her “Natural Heir” piece at the exhibit. Tho’s visuals represent the idea of Black hair –– which has been greatly politicized –– as a being of Mother Earth, replacing it with plants and flowers. In this way, Tho represents the idea of natural Black hair as being truly grounded and authentically beautiful, unadulterated and unfiltered by the pollution of society.
With acrylic on canvas, East Bay artist Alise Eastgate created a beautiful and poignant tribute to lives lost to gun violence. The image planted against a bright pink wall depicts Sandra Bland offering a bundle of calla lilies to Trayvon Martin, Latasha Harlins, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Charleena Lyles –– almost all of whom were victims of police brutality. Again, color is used as an evocative and remarkable symbol of life. Though these men and women are no longer living, they are remembered, honored and championed within their communities.
Eastgate’s painting is arguably the most powerful piece within the exhibit. The sorrowful yet effervescent memorial she created strikes a harrowing and memorable chord with the viewer. Eastgate furthers the power of this piece by taking inspiration from Diego Rivera’s “El Vendedor de Alcatraces” –– one of his most popular paintings. Through this connection, the painting represents an exchange and respect of different cultural styles and attributes.
Passing through the exhibit, surrounded by Black women examining art that represents them, one feels that they are walking on holy ground. The room was full of empowered faces. Black women laughed, Black women cried and Black women stood awestruck and speechless as they saw themselves in glory throughout the center.
This exhibit is a tangible example of the good that representation can do, of how powerful it can be to give underrepresented voices a space to create. Because when the Black woman is given a platform to express, a platform to share, she does indeed become a god.
Maisy Menzies is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].