“Womanist” exhibit challenges oppressive stereotypes

Photos by Robert Cooper

When D. Colin and Keion Hennessey birthed the idea of a joint art exhibit, the world looked a whole lot different than it does now.

Art galleries were open and able to operate at full capacity, there was no mask mandate, and people were able to gather and commune without having to worry about social distancing.

But that was 2019 and this is 2020, the worst year in over a century, which is thankfully coming to an end in less than a month.

With 2021 on the horizon Colin and Hennessey’s exhibit “Womanist: A Multimedia Art Experience,” aims to hit the reset button on a new year when it debuts January, 15th at Collectiveffort in Troy.

The foundation for this artistic partnership was laid a few years back when both D. Colin and Hennessey were enrolled in the Business of Art workshop that was put on by the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy.

Although they had brief interactions with each other, they were officially introduced during the seven-month-long course that took place between 2018 and 2019.  Out of the class of 12 artists from different mediums, D. Colin and Hennessey were the only two Black women and oftentimes found themselves having to defend their perspective to others in the workshop.

“Every time we would be critiqued it was the older, white, cis-het men in the group who wanted to put their two cents in about our Blackness, or what it was like to be a woman or a Black woman,” Hennessey said of the experience which inspired the name of their exhibit. “We were doing a contract project and we were like this [art exhibit] is going to be a very real thing and we pondered on the name and D just said ‘Womanist, that’s what it is’ and we went on from there.”

The term Womanist was coined by African-American writer, poet, and activist Alice Walker in 1983 to mean in her words “A Black feminist or a feminist of color” and was intended to unite women of color and the feminist movement at “the intersection of race, class, and gender oppression.”

“I came up with the name because it embodied everything we were trying to create which is a Black fem manifesto of art,” said D. Colin who along with being a visual artist is one of the most heralded poets in the capital region and host of Poetic Vibe at Troy Kitchen before COVID restricted social gatherings.

The power and the brilliance of Black women has been getting more and more attention in recent months especially in politics where it helped sway the presidential election, in education, in economics, and definitely in the arts.

“I think that everyone knows or needs to know at this point that Black women are multi-faceted and have many components to them,” said Hennessey who moved to the capital region from New Orleans five years ago. “D and I we’re angry, we’re joyful, we can paint, we can do this, and we can make videos. So it’s just showing off all of the talents of the Black woman and not just focusing on the stereotypical outliers that are oppressive or repressive when it comes to our identity. It’s having the freedom and the space to feel any and everything and have it come out in whatever medium.”

The art work created by the two artists features colorful acrylic paint centered in feminism and activism that draws inspiration from their background, Hennessey from her upbringing in New Orleans as well as her life in the capital region, and D. Colin from her Haitian background and her upbringing in Bridgeport, Ct.

“When I paint people I usually paint them in grayscale,” D. Colin said. “Predominately I’m painting Black people, mostly Black women and I like really bright colors which I think comes from my Haitian background and the colors that are used in Haitian folk art and all of it is afro-centric and Black-fem-centered.” 

With pretty much everybody on earth in agreement that 2020 absolutely sucked, the two artist have actually used the down time and uncertainty of this year to fuel their creativity.

“People say that great art comes from dark places,” said Hennessey. “Let me just tell you that homegirl is trying to have some masterpieces after the hot mess that I have been through and still going through right now. I have lots of inspiration from 2020 altogether.”

For D. Colin this year has not all been trash, as several opportunities have recently opened up for her.

“I think creatively I’ve written a lot more and a lot more consistently this year, and that may be due to time, but also there is a lot more to write about,” said D. Colin. “As far as creating art I’ve surprisingly had opportunities that I don’t know I would have had without the pandemic which is a strange thing. [I’ve had] conversations happening with me about painting murals because of the protests that happened here in Troy so now I have two murals to look forward to painting next year.”

The opening reception will be at Collectiveffort located at 415 River St. in Troy on January 15th from 5pm-9pm on Jan 15 and concludes on January 18th. The show will feature a multi-media art experience complete with paintings, video, and poetry as well as music by dj Poetik Selektions. Being that we are far from out of the COVID woods, attendees can expect that the pandemic protocols will be in effect and include having their temperature taken, a mask requirement, and a limited number of people in the exhibit at a time.

“We’re hoping that [those who come] will have a redeeming feeling of 2020,” Hennessey said. “They will understand that it sucked and they will see themselves in it and say ‘I struggled but I still found joy.’ They will find happiness in that moment and hopefully for a little bit forget that the world is nuts.”

That same sentiment of hope is shared by D. Colin who added “having to process through 2020 and all the things that happened especially through the lens of Black women is going to be a lot, but at the same time there is this sense of joy that we want people to leave with.”

There is a GoFundMe page for anyone interested in donating funds for the two to purchase art materials and to help fund the cost of putting on the show, as well as an event page on Facebook under the title of the show.

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