Written by: Cecilia Innis, ARTE Intern
In honor of Women’s History Month this past March, Art Through Resistance and Education (ARTE) would like to take the time to commemorate women of color artists and activists not just in our backyard in New York City, but also across the country.
In February 2020, Sophia Dawson was awarded ARTE’s first Visions of Justice Award honoring a woman of color visual artist who has brought attention to the human rights issues directly impacting their community through their art. Sophia is a Black woman painter and muralist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her art is centered around the stories of marginalized Black people as well as their struggles to overcome oppression. One project, “Every Mother’s Son Behind Bars” captures the stories of mothers who have lost their sons to police brutality. Another body of work, “All Power to the People,” depicts various faces of the Black Panther and Black Liberation movements such as Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton. Through her paintings, Dawson depicts the essence not only of Black suffering and strife, but also of resistance and freedom. In accordance with these themes, some of her works have put pressure on others to act and push for change. For example, her series on the Central Park Five, the story of five Black teenagers wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Central Park—resulting in their incarceration for several years—was an effort not only to spread awareness of these boys’ stories but also to garner support for their suit against New York City. In a similar vein, Dawson, in collaboration with Amnesty International, developed a mural focusing on incarcerated people worldwide, encouraging individuals to write them letters in support. Ultimately, Dawson’s work represents both her desire to share the experiences of oppressed peoples and to expose systems of inequality in order to put pressure on these systems that create change.
Sophia Dawson’s website: http://www.sophia-dawson.com
Sophia Dawson’s IG: @iamwetpaint
Portrait of Angela Davis featured in the series “All Power to the People” from Dawson’s website.
Abigail Romanchak is an indigenous Hawaiian visual artist and activist whose work focuses on uplifting Hawaiian culture and identity. She received a BFA and MFA in printmaking from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She feels that if art that empowers Hawaiian culture and identity does not speak to people in the present through contemporary means, the culture is jeopardized. Thus, Romanchak’s work is about preservation and survival; she feels responsible to tell the stories of her people that will persist for generations. A theme integral to her art that encapsulates her activism is her focus on human interaction with the land and the environment. For example, her piece, “Kāhea and Kani Le'a,” calls attention to the shocking statistic that seventy-two percent of the birds native to Hawaii have gone extinct. Romanchak warns, “If we continue on our present course, my grandchildren, and all of our grandchildren, will only know islands devoid of these beautiful bird songs.” These birds—central to Hawaiian land, people, and culture—are one example of how nature demands that Romanchak’s work draw attention to environmental justice.
Abigail Romanchak’s website: https://www.abigailromanchak.com/bio
Abigail Romanchak’s IG: @abigailromanchak
“Kāhea - ‘a call,’” Collagraph print, 5 feet x 23 feet and “Kani Le'a - ‘a distinct sound,’” Collagraph print, 5 x 7 feet featured in “Art and Activism: An Exhibition About Change” from Romanchak’s website.
Geri Montano is a Native American (of the Dineh, Navajo, heritage) from Colorado. She graduated from San Francisco with a BFA in drawing, painting, and sculpture. She utilizes these various mediums to make visible issues that are frequently suppressed and erased. More specifically, Montano sheds light on women’s oppression and trauma, principally in relation to her heritage; she states, “By prominently featuring women in my mixed media works, I aim to increase their visibility, especially in light of the historical significance of the indigenous matriarchy.” It is Montano’s culture that defines her expression of feminist themes in her work such as “Sundance in Red” in which a little girl—in a bright red dress and shoes much too large for her to fill—holds handcuffs, one cuff chained to her wrist and the other cuff dangling. Integral and inseparable from Montano’s work is her engagement with under-represented members of her community which can be seen through her workshops with shelters for trafficked women and her visual art teaching for adults with disabilities. Her activism, then, is defined by and consequently, defines her art.
Geri Montano’s website: https://www.geralynmontano.com/bio.html
Geri Montano’s Twitter: @GeriMontano
“Sundance in Red” - acrylic ink, charcoal graphite, collage on paper 72” x
54” 2011 from Montano’s website.
Betty Yu is an artist based in New York City whose work spans multiple media. She works with video, photography, augmented reality, interactive mapping, and more. Yu has an BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and an MFA from Hunter College in integrated media arts. Born and raised in New York City to Chinese immigrant parents, Yu’s art tackles the struggles that working class immigrants and their families face. Her documentary, “Resilience,” is about her mother’s life as a garment worker grappling with the harsh conditions of a sweatshop. Although Yu’s work is informed by her background, her activism spans interests as diverse as the media she uses to produce art. She says about the diversity of her art that, “ My work has explored issues ranging from housing equity, labor rights, immigrant justice, transgender equality and anti-militarism.” As a community organizer, particularly through her work with the Chinatown Art Brigade, her art demands much in the way of fighting for social justice and equality. For example, Yu collaborated with housing artists and activists on a project called “People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing,” a work consistent with her passion about fighting against gentrification. Another testament to her various passions is her film “Three Tours,” which is a piece about soldiers returning from Iraq and battling their PTSD. Yu’s many interests are not an indication of indecisiveness, but rather of her diligent dedication to tackling various systems of inequality through art.
Betty Yu’s website: http://www.bettyyu.net/bio
Betty Yu’s IG: @bettyyu21
“The Garment Worker” exhibited at the Blackbox Gallery in Manhattan, New York City in 2010 from Yu’s website.
Suhad Khatib is a Palestinian artist who was born in Oman, raised in Jordan, and now resides in the United States. She utilizes multiple media in her art such as design, painting, and filmmaking. Her paintings are notable for their shades of black and grey streaked and peppered with gold. They touch on themes about Palestinian identity, culture, land, strife, and the struggle for freedom. Khatib’s self portraits encompass her identity not only as a Palestinian woman but as an advocate of her people and community. She is an organizer and public speaker on Palestine, theology, and feminism and is also the designer behind various campaigns such as #Ferguson2Palestine and #ISupportRasmea. Her art is an extension of her heritage and of social justice; she characterizes her work as “an intentional study on healing and identity.”
Suhad Khatib’s website: https://suhadkhatib.com
Suhad Khatib’s IG: @Suh.ad
“palestinian love” from Khatib’s website (prints purchasable from her website).
All of these artists and activists represent the intersections between culture and self and, furthermore, how these facets of identity, when expressed through art, advocate for the most oppressed people in our world. It is ARTE’s belief that the voices of artists like them should be uplifted and spread to not only support their individual dedications to equality and justice, but to also support struggles for human rights on community levels and worldwide.
Please reach out and follow these artists on their social media platforms and support these artists and your local community artists, whenever possible.