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CultureWorks Grant Program

Last month, fellow artist Jowarnise and I had the opportunity to co-lead a workshop during Girls For A Change Camp Diva Leadership Academy through a grant from CultureWorks. We were so honored to be a part of this awesome program. Our workshop, entitled Quintessence, focused on stimulating young black and brown girls to think about their self-esteem by encouraging awareness of things that can undermine or enhance their self-esteem. We focused our conversations primarily on the hair of people of the African diaspora, a topic that has been an influence on racial disparity - among other things - in hiring practices, educational settings, and financial institutions.

In covering this topic, we introduced the students to artists Andrea Pippins, Lorna Simpson, Laetitia Ky, Sonya Clark, and Priyah Bhagat. Each of these amazing female artists of the African diaspora have created amazing works around the subject of hair, challenging the social standards of beauty and bringing light to the racial issues surrounding hair.

Day 1

Andrea Pippins is an illustrator who created the book "I Love My Hair." This book highlights and celebrates all hair types including coiled and curly hair which is often seen as unruly and unsightly. After the discussion, we created drawings of braided hair with a watercolor painted background.

Day 2

Lorna Simpson is a photographer and multimedia artist who has been an active artist since the 80s. Using her own experiences as a black woman, her work confronts and challenges conventional views of gender, identity, culture and history. Similar to a Simpson's collage work, the girls created a self-portrait collage using imagery, colors, and words that best represent who they are.

Day 3

Laetitia Ky is an artist who sculpts hair to create political art that addresses such things as police brutality, feminist ideals, and violence against women. She often uses herself as the subject. Styling hair into sculptural forms has a strong history in African and African-American culture and has often been seen as a political statement in and of itself. Following the discussion of her work, the youth got an idea of how to sculpt with hair which they then adhered to earring backings. They were excited to wear their Ky-inspired earrings.

Day 4

Sonya Clark is a mixed-media artist who also addresses race, culture, and history. She has often used hair and symbols of hair in her work like combs to make statements about society's discriminatory practices against people with natural black hair. Her work challenges the viewer and brings awareness to these prejudices. The young girls were excited to create a portrait of hair similar to the way Clark styles hair on canvas.

Day 5

Priyah Bhagat is a figurative doll artist whose work reclaims the image of the black doll in American society. She challenges what's termed as Black Memorabilia which was used to further racist agendas against black people by creating dolls - and other items - with exaggerated features of black people. Bhagat's dolls, instead, gives a spiritual connection with utilitarian and traditional art from the west coast of Africa. It was only natural to have the girls make their own fabric dolls, personalizing their creations with color choice, hand-painted faces and yarn-created hairstyles.

It was an exciting week that culminated in a small exhibition during their summer program closing ceremony.

We give many thanks to CultureWorks Grant Program and Girls for a Change for making this workshop possible.

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