The opening session of the Women’s Leadership Summit 2022 was an important discussion on how women of color can use the arts to tell their stories and work for justice. Moderated by Abha Thakkar, the panel included the word artist Opal Tomashevska, visual artist Lilada Gee and musician Kimberly Lonetree.
All three speakers said their intersecting identities as women of color informed their work.
“When I look at identity, the thing that happens to me first is that I’m black, and then I’m a woman,” said Gee, who is also the founder of Lilada’s Living Room and Defend Black Girls, organizations that help support Girls and Women. trauma survivors. “I grew up here in Madison. I go to a doctor’s office, the schools I went to, Lapham, Lincoln, West High School, even the UW campus, without seeing images that reflect me, reflect people like me … when you establish identity, part of that is gain a sense of how you look to yourself and how you look to the world. And this is fundamental for my art “.
He said much of his work uses yellow as the base color because it is bright and evokes joy.
“Black girls deserve to be girls,” she said. “They deserve to be innocent, they deserve to be joyful.”
Sometimes it’s a provocative joy, though, Gee said. She recounted the experience where she was asked to create one of the murals on State Street during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and was approached by white onlookers.
“I remember one person saying, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing this, instead of just being angry,'” he said. “And I said, ‘You know, I’m angry. That’s why I’m painting this big face of this black girl, because I want it all on your face, okay? ‘ Anger can be expressed in many ways, and because it’s a paintbrush in my hand, it doesn’t mean what I’m doing isn’t a war. “
Lonetree, a cellist who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and also a Korean-American, echoed that sentiment.
“There are several ways to express your anger. Doing it through our art, or music, through everything that makes us happy, “he said.” I love the fact that we understand it, that we all have given ourselves that path to express ourselves and not bottle it and not shut up, do not be silent “.
Tomashevska said her verbal work and poetry stem from her background in hip-hop, where she regularly competed in rap battles with boys, which allows her to lean on her black identity.
“(Hip-hop) is an art form that was born in Blackness,” he said. “I don’t have to whiten it, there’s no white in this, it’s just what comes from being comes from my soul.”
Gee recounted her experience of being reprimanded by an Overture Center employee while working on a mural for an installation at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which Madison365 was the first to report.
“Weeks after it happened, the Wisconsin State Journal finally covered the story. And it was the art and culture reporter who covered the story, “he said.” I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you mention this earlier? Your focus is art and culture? Like the Wisconsin State Journal did. not to see this as a precious story to tell that a woman of color and artists residing in Madison can’t go into, you know, the building just to paint? ‘ When we start showing ourselves, when our light starts to shine, there is a push against that. And then there is also ignoring what all this means. “
The Women’s Leadership Summit continues today with a panel of executives hosted by “It’s Only 10 Minutes” podcast co-host Stephanie Díaz de León. It will include UW Health Vice President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff; Ana Hooker, head of the Exact Sciences laboratory; Marilyn Ruffin, director of family and community initiatives at One City Schools; and Letesha Nelson, CEO of the Goodman Center. Click here to participate!