By Raven Jordan
Gallery owner and curator Daisha Board moderated the discussion between artists Jennifer Monet Cowley, Nitashia Johnson and Inyang Essien. A brief introduction of each artist is below:
- Jennifer Cowley is a visual artist, curator, fashion designer, and educator. She has been painting and drawing since the age of 5. She works in colored pencils, pastels, gouache, acrylic, watercolors and also designs and paints wearable art.
- Nitashia Johnson is a Nigerian-American, multimedia artist and educator who attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Black and white portraits from her “The Beauty of South Dallas” community project were featured in the Fair Park Uprooted series.
- Inyang Essien is a Nigerian-American photographer and visual artist. Her work is based in photography, cultural textiles, video installations, and generative art to explore identity through culture, sexuality, and personal transformation.
Here is a look at some highlights from their discussion:
DB: I mean them actively coming and speaking, uncensored, not based off of anyone’s particular gaze but their own. Jennifer, what was it like for you to be approached at this time? She knows the ins and outs of Dallas, like the front and back of her hand. What was it like for you to come into this project coming from all that you know about Dallas, how did that make you feel?
JC: When I was recommended by Frankie [Frank Frazier] for this particular project, I was floored and honored. Especially with having roots here in South Dallas and also in West Dallas, too. To be a part of this I did not want to censor or curate my talk as far as the painting goes when Frankie said “You have something on redlining?” something similar to painting The Story of White People that I did, but large scale.
NJ: How I came into this body of work, “The Beauty of South Dallas” — first of all, I thank the amazing people in South Dallas Cultural Center, just everyone, all the residents that I came across. It was more so this idea of documenting the space as just the land knowing that we see the changes happening is similar to many of the black and brown communities around the United States. We see how history has repeated itself. Working on this, especially with the help of the Cultural Center, all of those people over there, it really gave me a sense of we got this we just have to stand together. I don’t want anyone to be forgotten.
DB: Were there any challenges that you faced in creating the work or being able to properly express the gentrification that is going on not only in South Dallas, but other parts of Dallas? And what that looks like, you know, were there frustrating moments that you had, when you were completing this?
JC: When I got back from Florida, I came home sick. So I took two days off to get my body right. And then I finished this painting in seven days. So that was stressful. And I was listening to The Accommodation by Jim Schultz at the same time, which is where the title came from. The title of the painting is Grandiose: A Pleasant amount of Self Delusion. So I was trying to have some historical context from the book from someone else’s perspective, but also from my personal perspective, and my own narrative. So I want to make sure I included that, and I am thankful that I had free range to do what I’m wanted to do and not someone else’s vision.
DB: What is it about the black and white photography that, for you, captures the spirit of the community?
NJ: It really really freezes time, and I wanted to say this too, because I don’t know if many of you have seen the images from the Civil Rights Movement where you see, like MLK or Malcolm X and they’re all in black and white, and to see some of those images in the color. I don’t know if you’ve seen the conversations online how it just makes it feel like a bit more in the present. But with converting them to black and white, I kind of wanted to make it like something historical and strong, but to also understand and let people resonate that this is happening right now.
DB: Inyang, how did you determine who you would capture on film for this particular project?
Did you have any challenges with having an open dialogue about what they’ve gone through in the community?
IY: The challenge that I had personally is more of a frustration that you can’t learn everything. That’s why this is the first iteration of this project because there’s so much to be said and these are only three people that I spoke with. There are so many other stories and so many other things to learn and to know about. It’s frustrating for me to know that we can’t get it all, even just cutting it down to what 20 or 25 minutes, you know, all the footage that we captured. That was difficult because there’s so much that they had to say that makes a difference.