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‘The Black Woman Is God’ art exhibition is back!

June 4, 2016

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

One of the first conscious things that we realize when we are babies is our connection to our mother. We usually learn to connect with our father later, but a mother’s physical connection is the first natural platform for the child to be safe and get nourished.

A submission by one of the artists to the 2016 “The Black Woman Is God” exhibit

A submission by one of the artists to the 2016 “The Black Woman Is God” exhibit

So when I first heard the statement that “The Black Woman Is God,” it wasn’t new or spooky to me, because I grew up in a family with over a hundred members and everyone knew that my grandmother’s say was the final one. She was the family’s guide or god – as rapper Askari X uses the words interchangeably.

And, for the record, the first internationally worshipped diety in the history of humanity was Queen Auset out of the Nile Valley. And last but not least, most of us believe, like the Indigenous people of this land, in Mother Nature, the force of change on our planet.

I talked with “The Black Woman Is God” exhibit’s cofounder Karen Seneferu about this year’s show and the concepts and history behind this very important annual art show in the Bay.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us how “The Black Woman is God” project was conceived?

Karen Seneferu: The Black Woman is God (TBWIG) was conceived out of a conversation I had with the co-curator, Melorra Green. We wanted to organize a space for a number of talented Black women artists in the Bay Area to express their collective creativity unique to them.

We were interested in what it means for African American artists in general and Black women artists in particular to struggle for inclusion in society where we are marginalized both in art and culture, and then what it would look like to create a space for Black women to reveal the esthetic, the expertise and experimentation of their imaginations. Melorra created the first space for the exhibit to exist in 2013 at the African American Art and Culture Complex.

There were a number of intentions we were concerned with then and now. The first was that Black women gather together concerned about the importance of knowing a BIOLOGICAL TRUTH THAT THE BLACK WOMAN HOLDS THE MITOCHONDRIA OF ALL HUMANITY, THE EVE GENE, replicating a spiritual presence that is in our own shape and image. It is a RECOGNITION of the importance to the WOMB AND THE UNIVERSE, how they MIRROR EACH OTHER.

We also are looking at how Black women are at the forefront of the economic, political and spiritual consciousness shifting in Oakland, California, and the world. There is a changing view about the ways others see us and the ways we see ourselves.

We wanted to organize a space for a number of talented Black women artists in the Bay Area to express their collective creativity unique to them.

We wanted to express critical spaces where we are our priorities and define our truth with an attempt to undermine stereotypes that have defined us. This exhibition is an expression of these views, how Black women are at the top of political and spiritual shifts in the world and simultaneously at the bottom of the societal views and values.

Police officers killing Black women with impunity and Black women being the most educated group in society – these are ramifications beyond the Bay Area and why an exhibition like this is necessary.

So the exhibit is about shifting the perception of the historical narratives that define and frame Black womanhood in dehumanizing ways. Black women artists are at the center of moving the culture towards the direction of a future we desire and need.

Black women artists are mirroring this major shift happening in society; they are at the forefront of change, and art will be the vehicle to reveal the shift. The art exhibit ultimately acknowledges the community members who are living amongst us and calling on the community to come forth to do the work to improve the change needed for spirituality growth.

The exhibit is about shifting the perception of the historical narratives that define and frame Black womanhood in dehumanizing ways. Black women artists are at the center of moving the culture towards the direction of a future we desire and need.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Auset, one of the world’s first deities?

Karen Seneferu: Auset (Black Isis) predates the Madonna and child by some 3,000 years. The narrative developed into what people know as the virgin mother and child, Mary and Jesus, present in Christianity. She is known as the “Great Mother,” “Immaculate Virgin” and “Mother of God,” to name a few.

In Europe the Black Madonnas have been worshipped for hundreds of years. And even though her image is venerated and held in high esteem, she is seen as Auset or Black Isis.

Another submission for the show

Another submission for the show

M.O.I. JR: How are the artists that participate in the show chosen?

Karen Seneferu: Melorra and I invited a large pool of artists in the Bay Area, primarily. We were looking at heavy hitters, emerging, fine art and self-taught artists who are in various stages of their forms. We were interested in visual, multimedia, sculptural, dance performance, musicians and installation artists, to show that Black women create in it.

M.O.I. JR: Why is “The Black Woman Is God” a powerful statement?

Karen Seneferu: This exhibit confronts white male patriarchal ideologies and challenges that old history and paradigm that have programmed people of color – Black people – through iconography that God is white and male. It also encourages self-determination, agency and an alternative to Western culture’s religious beliefs used as tools of oppression.

M.O.I. JR: What do you hope Black women get from it?

Karen Seneferu: That Black women will see this exhibit as an alternative to victimization. I would like for them to understand how the artists are using space to talk about issues that matter to them and coming up with solutions that can change their experiences. I want them to understand the issues presented in the exhibit and recognize that the bravery of an exhibition like this is needed for them.

I want them to see Black women as a resistance to and alternative to racial and gender injustices. These artists are showing that they are not afraid of artistic controversy. In fact they are courageous for taking on this topic.

My hope is to impact the consciousness of Black women, and they will see that Black women as artists preserve the culture of their ancestors and convey their struggles and hopes, using their images.

Eventually, I want the artists’ work to create a dialogue between Black women, women of color and girls of color. I want them to question the possibility of seeing themselves at the highest cultural level, seeing the depictions of the artwork as strong, competent and beautiful like them. I want Black women and women of color to recognize the importance of becoming their own historians, their own agent of their own experiences.

I want them to see Black women as a resistance to and alternative to racial and gender injustices. These artists are showing that they are not afraid of artistic controversy. In fact they are courageous for taking on this topic.

M.O.I. JR: What do you hope non-Black people get from this show?

Karen Seneferu: We want to challenge the idea of who is telling the story about Black women and who they’re telling those stories to. I want them to think about the stereotypes they believe about Black women and ask why do they need them?

I want them to think about how they have accepted stereotypes of Black women and have them question themselves in relationship to it. I want them to ultimately challenge who is given legitimacy to tell Black women’s stories and why Black women are often denied space to convey their own.

Often times the only people who know about Black women artists and their work are Black women. I want to change that dynamic.

We want to challenge the idea of who is telling the story about Black women and who they’re telling those stories to. I want them to think about the stereotypes they believe about Black women and ask why do they need them?

My hope is to insert Black women as artists into shifting dialogues of worth. Artists bring forth these mythological figures (history) that need to be exposed, political history of Black women artists as trailblazers and an understanding that the politics of what it means should be ahead of the history.

In doing so, Black women will find an even wider audience, not just within the community but outside of it, to support the artistic purpose that’s bound with spiritual value that mirrors the artists’ own intention as contributors to African art and culture.

M.O.I. JR: Where will it be this year?

Karen Seneferu: On June 9, Dr. Runoko Rashidi, the African historian, essayist, author and public lecturer, will be lecturing at Oakstop, 1721 Broadway, at 6:30. I am blessed to be able to prescreen “The Black Woman Is God” a documentary of the art exhibit, directed by Idris Hassan, and a short art film, “Hot Comb The Masquerade,” directed by Adnike Iman and myself, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

“The Black Woman Is God” co-curators Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green – Photo: Malaika H Kambon

“The Black Woman Is God” co-curators Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green – Photo: Malaika H Kambon

There is also a scholarly presentation of the importance of TBWIG exhibit at the Oakland Hub July 1, 8-9 p.m.

July 7 there will be an amazing free reception to open the exhibit, with African drumming, dancing and celebration at SOMArts Gallery, 934 Brannan St. in San Francisco, from 6 to 10 p.m. This exhibit is especially important because SOMArts has a new executive director, Maria Jensen, and TBWIG committee sees this exhibit as welcoming her to her new position. The exhibit will be up through Aug. 17.

M.O.I. JR: Who’s in the show?

Karen Seneferu: There are over 60 incredibly talented Black women artists. Some of them are Sage Stargate, a young phenom who is a visual artist; the legendary muralist, Edythe Boone; Joan Tarika Lewis, who is both a visual artist and musician; and cultural and political activist Zakiya Harris, who has been a foundational supporter for this project and has created a song that is the theme for the exhibit and an important individual to the development of the exhibit; and Idris Hassan, who is a director of the documentary of the exhibit and a visual artist.

M.O.I. JR: How can people stay in touch with you online?

Karen Seneferu: We can be reached at http://www.theblackwomanisgod.com/, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackWomanIsGod/, #THEBLACKWOMANISGOD, and on Instagram and Twitter at TBWIG.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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