Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, & Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women

True to the liberal arts ideals of Colorado College, the Cornerstone Arts Building currently hosts the IDEA (Interdisciplinary Experimental Arts) Space, a gallery designed to promote creative, intellectual, and personal growth among students as well as the surrounding community. This past week, the IDEA Space opened their latest (and final) exhibition: “Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, & Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women”.

Photos by Mikaela Burns

The exhibit presents images that examine the negative cultural discourse surrounding black women both contemporarily and throughout history. The gallery features the work of nine talented artists, most of whom are black women themselves. The exhibit originally opened in the Alexandria Museum in Louisiana. Now, after two years of movement, the exhibit has a home at CC to invite viewers to appreciate both the art and black women. Unlike other similar strains of art, the work in this gallery seeks to challenge oppressive images rather than replicate them. The art world is generally dominated by males, however, this exhibit showcases the work of black women reclaiming their image and explores subordinated groups and those who seek to dominate them.

In addition to the IDEA Space, several other events accompanied the exhibit including a panel discussion about identity as a black woman. The members of the panel included Heidi Lewis, who is a professor of feminist and gender studies here at Colorado College, Claudine Taafe, who is a Vanderbilt professor and senior lecturer on African-American and diaspora studies, accomplished poet Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley, and Co-Editor of Arts. Black, Jessica Lynne.

The panel examined a variety of issues facing black women in contemporary America—not to say these issues are new, though, in relation to the images in the gallery. Lewis, the monitor, began with an emotional reflection on a personal experience of “aesthetic subjugation” that set the tone for the rest of the event. From there, the group went on to discuss abusive power dynamics and the role of black women in art and beyond.

“A black female presence is non-negotiable,” said Lynne. Simply put, members of the creative community cannot be excluded, especially members as crucial as black women. In an area such as the art world, popular discourse often favors and features the works of white men. Most can recall a piece by Van Gogh, but what about Saar? The pieces in the gallery offer a counter-narrative to the male-dominated culture. Additionally, as a fundamental form of expression, art provides a powerful medium for conveying social messages as well as expressing self-love. During the panel, Taafe mentioned, “Black women have to think outside the box because that’s how they survive…[this exhibit] is attempting to create a space where black women can remain in love with themselves.”

The week continued with more events including a talk and q&a by Lynne on Wednesday and a documentary screening on Thursday. The IDEA Space will host the “Reclaiming Images” exhibition for the rest of the year. This will not only be the final exhibition for the 2016-2017 school year, but also the final exhibit in Cornerstone. As part of the blossoming CC-FAC alliance, as of next year, the IDEA Space will be moved to the Fine Arts Center to provide bigger and better services.

Jonathan Tignor

Jonathan Tignor

Jonathan began as a writer for Life and is now the section editor. He is a rising junior who is majoring in English-Creative Writing and pursuing a theatre minor. When he isn't editing he is usually writing, cooking, spending time with his friends, or trying to get tickets to a concert.
Jonathan Tignor

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