More than 60 intergenerational artists working in sculpture, painting, and new media are honoring the vital contributions of Black women as artists and social change-makers in a new art exhibit titled, The Black Woman is God at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco.
Co-curators Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green see the project as not only an exhibition, but as a movement-building platform that explores the intersections of race and gender.
The exhibition opened to a packed house with over 1,200 people in attendance last Thursday, July 7.
We caught up with Seneferu and Green to discuss the inspiration behind the show, the artists who are featured, and more.
BCB: What inspired The Black Woman is God?
Karen Seneferu: I wanted to create an exhibition that challenges gaps and fragments in art history that position Black art as only ancient or contemporary, failing to honor the space in between, and thus wanted a place large enough to support a number of Black women artists to create a narrative that reflective their truths.
As co-curators, how did you meet and how did this project come about between the two of you?
Karen Seneferu: I have known Melorra for a number of years. She was the curator at the African American Art and Cultural Complex (AAACC) in San Francisco. She had offered me a solo exhibition in 2010, but I was more interested in creating a space where a number of Black women artists could express multiple narratives through their work instead of just my own.
In terms of how the project developed, Melorra and I were discussing the ways that Black women are dehumanized in the world but rise above the various forms of oppression towards achievement for themselves and their communities, and I stated, “That is because the Black Woman is God,” and Melorra jumped on that, saying, “That’s what we will call the exhibit,” and the movement was born and first presentation was in 2013 at AAACC.
Melorra Green: Karen Seneferu has always been a giant artist to me. As a curator, I have always felt that her expansive vision and limitless expectations of herself and the spaces she navigates and like to play are exciting, encouraging, and inspiring.
The Black Woman Is God has been described as “not just an exhibit, but a platform that explores the intersections of race and gender.” What can people expect in terms of the works shown in the exhibit?
Melorra Green: People can expect to realize their beauty regardless of their race and gender.
Karen Seneferu: Since the reception happened July 7th, I can affirm what I expected. People were and will be amazed by the expansiveness of the art, the level of creativity and skill, the depths of ideas. The artwork confirms cultural and spiritual wealth. The viewer will come to understand the ways Black women artists contribute to art history. The audience are extremely moved know matter what ethnicity when they enter the room. The art is transformative.
What was the process like in selecting those pieces?
Karen Seneferu: I knew most of the artists for many years. A number of them participated in the Richmond Art Centers’ annual exhibit called the Art of Living Black co founded by Rae Louise Hayward and Jan Hart-Schuyler. I had seen some of the artists’ work in Bay Area galleries, on Facebook and some were students of mine that became friends and had shown me their work, but they never had exhibited in a gallery. That is one of the parts I like about curating this exhibit, giving artists and opportunity to recognize their greatness among other great artists, and I have to thank Rae Louise Hayward for that! She did that for me as an artist. As a curator I was excited and contemplative about picking the artwork because I didn’t want to turn people down, but I also understood the level of the artistry I was looking for to reflect the fullness of Black women artists, historically.
Melorra Green: Not all of the artists were are popular or ‘well-known’ beyond the Bay or even in the Bay. One of the things I will say, keeps the glue between Karen and me is our commitment to artists – at any level – having a space. She asked that we all create BIG work. Now that is a HUGE request for artists who are new, maybe are not use to creating big or know they can, or even simply dealing with ‘taking up space’. This show is huge for exploding those factors alone.
Can you talk a bit about the artists themselves. Who are some of them and why should the public be excited to view their work?
Karen Seneferu: There is Samella Lewis, who is known as an artist, historian, critic and collector of African-American art. She is important, for she wrote a number of books that has shaped American art; her books give history of African American artists the reader might not be familiar for the artists date back to the colonial period. Her work in this exhibit is important for her style is reminiscence of Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, groundbreaking artists in the art world. We are very fortunate to have this luminary in the exhibit.
Sage Stargate work is amazing! She did a 12 foot mural inside the gallery. The female figure looms over the gallery, with a purple like halo or haze. The African masks or cowery shells circles the head of what could be the first woman emerging out of the universe. This God figure has extraterrestrial forms flying around the figure. The piece draws the viewer to it but to approach it, one becomes aware that the viewer is standing in the portal of the painting. Stargate is a young emerging artist in her early 20s, and the audience will find that her piece alone can draw the viewer in for hours to discover the self in the work.
It seems like black women are constantly battling with society when it comes to the way we look and our overall image. How does this exhibit counteract some of the stereotypes that exist about black women?
Karen Seneferu: The black women artists not only counteract but they building or returning to cultural esthetic, traditions, and belief systems rooted in the African diaspora. Their desire is not to work within binary narratives, staying within counter, counteract, which is to stay within the framework of war created by the oppressive forces. What these Black women artists desire is to imagine themselves in a multiplicity of ways that may have nothing to do with western thought or practice and more to do with reclaiming the beauty and spirit of the self.
Melorra Green: This exhibit helps you to fall in love with the Black woman, her essence, her gifts, her way of being. To be surrounded by the visions, meditations, and cognitive vibrations of 60 women, whose vibrations land on the canvas, in the clay of sculptures, the water and transfer of photography, the picking and placement of installations… that’s powerful. You enter into another dimension. I think for the first time many people feel us. Then, they see us. They see our hearts, our desires, our love, and yes our pain. You get to know us and getting to know someone is more powerful than accepting propaganda, gossip, and specially crafted media that sells that we are anything but Queens and Gods.