The Essence of a Black Woman, Pt. I


This December BlkArthouse is hosting our Baltimore exhibition "The Essence of a Black Woman." The exhibition theme is the brilliant brain child of our Creative Director Joli McTerrell, who wanted to showcase the beautiful complexity and depth of our experiences as Black women. We're bringing you this two-part written series to reflect upon The Essence of a Black Woman and what this exhibition means to us.


Pictured: Joli McTerrell (left) & Tatiana Rice (right)


Part I: Tatiana, Founder/CEO


I am a Black woman--an identity that has taken me a lifetime to reconcile and reflect upon. I was born into a White community where no one really knew what it meant to be a Black woman, beyond the negative stereotypes. I did not grow up around Black women, and I hardly saw them in the television shows I watched or the magazines I read, unless I was getting my hair done. Being a Black woman was a mystery to me; so I dissociated from an identity I did not understand.


It was not until college that I was able to experience Black women--Black women leading in sports, Black women discussing critical race theory, Black women wearing their natural hair--Black women simply existing. I wanted to know them and be them. Unlike me, they seemed confident in who they were and weren't afraid or ashamed of their skin or hair or the pitch of their voice. The Black women I met in law school were similarly brilliant and multi-faceted; each of them carrying their own brand of conviction. Over time, I've seen and experienced more and more about the essence of Black women. I previously felt an outsider to my own identity but thanks to those I met, and a critical increase of Black female representation, I have become more and more enamored with this beautifully complex identity.


So here I am. A Black woman, still learning her own identity, leading an art exhibition focused on the essence of a Black woman, and sharing in all of the vulnerabilities of that paradox. Here's what I've learned in the process:

  • Black femininity in America is a living contradiction. Society teaches us that Black-skinned people shall be feared or disdained or (if you reach the pinnacle) respected, but demands women to be tender and agreeable and lovable. As a result, Black women are hardly ever perceived as 'enough.'

  • Black women are fighters, and tend to carry an unmistakable sense of resilience.

  • Black women are almost always more capable than ourselves and others think.

  • Black women are the soul of our communities.

  • We are beautiful. (I mean, truly, have you seen the way the sun reflects on melanated skin?)


Definitionally, the essence of something is the basic nature of a thing: the quality of qualities that make a thing what it is. So to answer the question, "What is the Essence of the Black Woman?" I believe it to be the constant power of soul, conviction, and compassion. I also believe it to be ever-changing.


We hope to show you this, and our artists' perspectives on this question at our upcoming exhibition, please join us by RSVP'ing here.

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