Welcome to A.R.T. (Accessing the Richness of Tones) Studio where the category is always “Black Women.” If you take a moment to do a quick 360°, you will see Black female warriors, Black silhouettes with nature and Black queens with piercing gazes on every wall. Oil paintings, canvases, and even a framed puzzle. Here at A.R.T. it is all about surrounding myself with art that looks like me. If you are a Black woman, reflect on the art pieces as if they are a mirror of sorts. If you are unable to claim that your ancestors believed in ginger ale as a sickness treatment, could not vote until the 1960s, and waited centuries for a president that looked like them, you have an opportunity to share these creators with your melanin enriched peers. Our tour will begin promptly starting with the studio’s star and ending with a profile of Uzo Njoku, one of the artists on display.
Ironically, the star of this gallery has an unknown artist and unknown original name. It did not come from anywhere fancy. In fact, it was found for $30 at an Atlanta Ross. As the biggest art piece on display, our global sister commands the attention of the room. Her strong eyes are always watching, daring you to ask about the dots on her face or her beaded accessories. It is her ambiguity and anonymous nature that makes this canvas most intriguing. She invites the viewer to open their imagination and create her origin story. For now, we will call her Fatam.
A.R.T’s next signature piece is the first canvas to start this collection. Our patriotic beauty is from the Oliver Gal Artist Co. Some say she has a striking resemblance to Beyoncé. She forces us to reconcile with some serious contradictions. Her afro, a natural hairstyle forbidden in the workplace and just recently embraced publicly by naturalistas, is painted with the American flag. It is the only spot of color on the canvas. Such a massive fro is powerful. However, one might ask why it is painted in a flag that represents a country that does not embrace the subject of the painting: a Black woman. Must she show love for a country that does not love her back? I would say no, and I believe our sista friend would agree. Her fro might be “Americanized” yet she bears the chains of societal rejection around her neck. The Black woman in America is complicated to say the least. She can be a reflection of the negativity around her. But she can also be so much more. She is Monique.
One of the most popular artists at A.R.T. is Reyna Noriega, a Miami based visual artist. Reyna uses creativity as a superpower to make prints, puzzles, and clothing items with Black women at the center. Her vibrant colors represent the beauty of women and place them within the fine art world. Her range of products show how women, and specifically Black women here in A.R.T., can fuel a business. A.R.T. is proud to feature her work specifically Reyna, accessoire, and Last Supper.
Before we end the tour, we must get to know Uzo Njoku of UzoArt, whose prints are our studio owner’s favorite pieces. Uzo Njoku was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to the United States as a child. When asked how it all began, Uzo said “I have been an artist for three years and my first product was a coloring book. I went to school for statistics and found that art was the best way to express myself.” Uzo is currently in art school to get her master’s in fine arts, but her journey to becoming a successful artist did not start off with “technical training.” She was self-motivated and grew artistically after confined practice, learning that art is a process. While creating art of mostly Black women, Uzo aims for exclusivity to make sure UzoArt is representing her vision at all times. “I am successful because I have a business mindset,” said Uzo in our January interview. Part of her business mindset includes recognizing weaknesses and asking for help. Uzo shared that she “hires out for marketing and writing assignments. It takes money to make money.” We must keep an eye out for this talented young artist in 2021. She has plans to enter into home décor, to complete a fine art show in New York, and to expand her black owned businesses.
A.R.T. Studio supports Black women because we are the best people to create art that reflects who we are. Black women under the male gaze are usually overly sexualized, but artists like Uzo Njoku, Reyna Noreiga, Vashti Harrison, and many more, known and unknown, have the chance to paint the Black woman as a strong and captivating figure. We must support those who can change the narrative through their work, normalising Black women as art.
We might be in a pandemic but collecting art can be affordable. Artists usually have their work on their personal website or online stores, and they typically have sales on older pieces or for first time buyers that start around 10 percent off. If you want a canvas, iCanvas is a great place to start because the site always has a sale going on. The last tip is to collect over time. It might be tempting to buy a lot of art at once but try to save links and make buying art more of a treat. Before you know it, you will have walls full of gorgeous, breathtaking Black female figures.
Written by Imani Brooks
Credit photos: Imani Brooks