Director’s Desk: Amy Sherald Inspires

A few weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery, a two-year-old girl stood captivated in front of Michelle Obama’s new portrait by Amy Sherald, the artist who also won the gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. A snapshot of the girl enthralled by the painting circulated on Facebook, where it quickly went viral—as did so many of the photographs of the portrait of the former first lady.

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

The little girl’s mother told CNN, “As a female and as a girl of color, it’s really important that I show her people who look like her that are doing amazing things and are making history so that she knows she can do it.”

This statement echoed the former first lady’s remarks at the painting’s unveiling, “[Girls, and especially girls of color,] will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution. And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

It is extremely exciting for me to see the public interact with Sherald’s work in person and on social media. While the painting of Obama evoked a mixed reception from some who were unfamiliar with her stylized practice, it won high praise from many for its insightful take on a strong woman, inspiring people of all ages. In 2012—before Sherald’s name was widely known—the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) took notice of her work. You can see two paintings, They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake and It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, in our galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

The museum’s exterior; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Our Chief Curator Kathryn Wat says, “Sherald’s flamboyant palette and the gray-scale skin tones of her figures are part of what makes her work so engaging. The way she positions figures in her portraits—usually aimed straight forward and looking out with a neutral expression—is also arresting. I think she rejects the romantic idea that portraits ought to capture not just a likeness but the essence of a sitter’s character. Her work offers a much livelier take on portraiture—it suggests that people are never of a singular personality and much more complex than we might ever imagine.” Sherald explained that the way she portrays skin color is “a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people.”

In the wake of the Obama portrait’s unveiling, Sherald’s work is receiving widespread attention. She was recently awarded the 2018 David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which is presented to a person who has made a significant contribution to the conversation about the work of black artists.

In honor of Women’s History Month, our museum hung a banner featuring Sherald and the word “inspire” on the building. When a woman artist deserves praise, we don’t hesitate to shout it out.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Can You Name #5WomenArtists?

Can you name five women artists? Did your response include any women artists of color? Women artists, especially women of color, remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses. This March, for Women’s History Month, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is relaunching our award-winning social media campaign asking, “Can you name five women artists?”

NMWA began the #5WomenArtists campaign in March 2016. It elicited shock, provided a challenge, and sparked conversation about gender parity in the arts. During March 2017, more than 520 national and international cultural institutions and nearly 11,000 individuals joined the campaign to promote women artists in all 50 states and on seven continents.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling says, “There is no better time than now to raise awareness that the art world also disadvantages women’s opportunities and advancement, with women artists of color experiencing a double disadvantage in an already challenging field.”

Join NMWA and other institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Tate, and Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture to share stories of women artists using the hashtag #5WomenArtists.

Here’s how you can get started:

Learn more about women artists through NMWA’s artist profiles

To kick off the month, learn more about five women artists featured in the museum’s programs, exhibitions, and collection:

For more than eight decades, Maria Martinez (1887–1980, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico) continued and extended the centuries-old pottery traditions of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Georgia Mills Jessup (1926–2016, Washington, D.C.) demonstrated diverse talent as a painter, sculptor, ceramicist, muralist, and collage artist.

Contemporary painter Li Shurui (b. 1981, Chongqing, China) uses an airbrush to add vibrant color to canvas to approximate the appearance of LED lighting popular in nightclubs and city settings.

Tanya Habjouqa (b. 1975, Amman, Jordan) is one of the founding members of the Rawiya photography collective and documents everyday life and social issues in the Middle East.

Graciela Iturbide’s (b. 1942, Mexico City, Mexico) photographs reveal the daily lives, customs, and rituals of Mexico’s underrepresented native cultures.

Want to help advocate for women artists? Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts. Follow along with the month’s highlights on NMWA’s Women’s History Month webpage.

Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

American Abstraction—Expanded

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields, 1991; Oil on canvas, 70 1/2 x 150 in.; Courtesy of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia; art and photo © The Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia

NMWA hosts the exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, opening to the public on Friday, October 13, 2017.

Mildred Thompson, Untitled (Wood Picture), ca. 1966; Found wood and acrylic, 39 3/8 x 27 1/8 x 2 3/8 in.; New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, Leah Chase Fund, 2016.51; Courtesy and copyright of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia; Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

Organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, Magnetic Fields is the first U.S. exhibition to place abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another.

Taking its title from a vibrant painting by Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields features work by 21 visionary women artists born between the years 1891 and 1981. The exhibition presents abstract art in a variety of artistic mediums, including printmaking, painting, sculpture, and drawing. These works—often incorporating unconventional materials or monumental scale—reveal the artists as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Thompson describes her work in the visual arts as “A continuous search for understanding. It is an expression of purpose and reflects a personal interpretation of the universe.” Similarly, artworks on view in Magnetic Fields celebrate each artist’s view of the universe through choices related to form, color, composition, and material exploration. Magnetic Fields re-contextualizes these works within the history of American abstraction.

Candida Alvarez, Puerto Rico, 25796, 2008; Watercolor, pencil, and marker on vellum, 12 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Chicago, Illinois; © Candida Alvarez; Photo by Tom van Eynde

Thompson’s works are featured alongside art by Candida Alvarez, Betty Blayton, Chakaia Booker, Lilian Thomas Burwell, Nanette Carter, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Deborah Dancy, Abigail DeVille, Maren Hassinger, Jennie C. Jones, Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery, Mary Lovelace O’Neal,  Howardena Pindell, Mavis Pusey, Shinique Smith, Gilda Snowden, Sylvia Snowden, Kianja Strobert, Alma Woodsey Thomas, and Brenna Youngblood. Together with the display of dynamic works by an inter-generational group of artists, an exhibition catalogue helps spark conversation about these artists and their place in history. Magnetic Fields represents a long-awaited milestone in honoring and recognizing the practitioners of abstraction.

Reserve your spot today for a first look at the exhibition during the opening party on October 12, from 7:30–9:30 p.m. Magnetic Fields is on view October 13, 2017–January 21, 2018. 

—Katie Benz is the fall 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder Women in the NMWA Library

This summer the blockbuster film Wonder Woman has already earned more than $724 million. The NMWA Library and Research Center staff could not resist swinging their own golden lasso by presenting Wonder Women!, a celebration of women who are fearless, adventurous, and larger than life. Drawn from the wide-ranging holdings of the library’s special collections, this exhibition features women of both fact and fiction demonstrating great bravery and taking action against the wrongs of the world.

The Wonder Women! exhibition was inspired by the NMWA Library’s recent acquisition of the first regular monthly issue of the feminist Ms. magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes, which hit newsstands in July 1972. In an effort to visually differentiate Ms. from other women’s magazines, the staff selected an image of Wonder Woman for the cover, fighting for “peace and justice in ’72.”

Cover of the first regular monthly issue of Ms. magazine

The illustration was by Murphy Anderson, a longtime artist for DC Comics. The banner “Wonder Woman for President” likely references Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president that year. Anderson also reflects the country’s anxiety about the war in Vietnam as a giant Wonder Woman strides with urgency down a main street in America, rescuing part of the town with her golden lasso, while shielding the street from a raging jungle battlefield placed uncomfortably close behind the shop fronts.

The cover was also timely as a reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book was due to be published in 1973—this time with its first woman editor, Dorothy Woolfolk. Ms. magazine featured Wonder Woman on the cover again for its 40th anniversary issue in 2012. The 2012 issue featured Wonder Woman bounding down Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of famous women’s rights marches for more than a century.

The article inside, “Wonder Woman Revisited” by Joanne Edgar, quotes the character’s originator, Charles Moulton: “Wonder Woman has force bound by love and, with her strength, represents what every woman should be and really is. She corrects evil and brings happiness. Wonder Woman proves that women are superior to men because they have love in addition to force.” The combination of strength and love is apparent in the materials featured in Wonder Woman!, from Judy Chicago shedding the patriarchy of her given name, to lighthouse keeper Grace Darling who risked her life on a night in 1838 to save victims of a shipwreck.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to celebrate the legacy of wonder women!

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Color Blocking & Blending: Polly Apfelbaum’s Prints

Polly Apfelbaum (b. 1955) is best known for her large-scale installations and “fallen paintings,” compositions of dyed synthetic fabrics that she places directly on the floor. The exhibition Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum, currently on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery, presents a focused survey of Apfelbaum’s recent prints.

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

In more recent years, Polly Apfelbaum revisited printmaking, a process she explored as an art student at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania. Creating most of her prints at Durham Press, Apfelbaum often collaborates with master printmaker Jean-Paul (J.P.) Russell to create her colorful, abstract works. Her works reference abstract, minimalist, and Pop art. She was influenced by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Jackson Pollock, but Apfelbaum’s work differs in style by incorporating energy, playfulness, and wit, as well as her love of popular culture and affirmative view of femininity.

Because of her prints’ clean-edged shapes and even color, one might assume that Apfelbaum’s works are mechanically produced. However, they are meticulously handmade. Apfelbaum works closely with master printers to cut woodblocks from plywood in shapes based on her hand-drawn doodles. The blocks are then inked by hand in a broad but ordered spectrum of colors. “Many times these are a vocabulary of shapes that fit into each other perfectly, but also interchangeably,” explains Apfelbaum. “This allows for a wildly fast and intuitive process, where it would be impossible for me to work like this by myself.”

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 66, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 66, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Her “Dogwood” prints are the result of woodblocks made from from slices of dogwood tree branches sourced in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where Durham Press is located. “The ‘Dogwood’ prints were made from the wood of a dogwood tree, the Pennsylvania state tree. I grew up in Pennsylvania, Durham Press is in Pennsylvania on Dogwood Lane, and a dogwood fell down on their property. So we put it to work,” says the artist. Apfelbaum’s arrangements are generally improvisational, though she cites a dress from the Finnish design firm Marimekko as inspiration for the dogwood prints like “Little Dogwood 66” (2012).

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

“Byzantine Rocker 6” (2014) is a prime example of Apfelbaum’s fondness for blending colors through a “split-fountain” or “rainbow roll” technique, in which multiple colors are partially mixed on a block to achieve a gradient effect when printed. “In the print world the technique is considered really cheesy, and that makes me like it even more. As far as the process goes, we lay out two-color and three-color combinations, which get rolled onto the shapes. I then place the blocks face-up until I’m satisfied with the composition.” The title of this work implies a back-and-forth movement, mimicking the way the eye moves across the bands of color.

Visit the museum to see Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum before the exhibition closes on July 2, 2017.

—Madeline Barnes was the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: June 16, 2017

This year’s edition of Art Basel, Switzerland, opened on Thursday, June 15.

Art Basel features work by the Guerrilla Girls (left) and Claudia Comte (right)

Art Basel features work by the Guerrilla Girls (left) and Claudia Comte (right)

The art fair showcases posters by the Guerrilla Girls, a video installation by Cécile B. Evans with a Brutalist viewing booth, film programming by Maxa Zoller, and a “fun fair” installation by Claudia Comte, who says, “we are all taking ourselves too seriously.”

Front-Page Femmes

The National Museum of Women in the Arts made the news this week with a $9 million bequest from benefactor Madeleine Rast.

The film Wonder Woman smashed records, becoming the biggest-ever domestic opening for a woman director ever.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith was named the poet laureate of the United States by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.

Indian artist Astha Butail has been selected as the next BMW Art Journey winner with her project In the Absence of Writing.

Ramsay art prize winner Sarah Contos “boldly claims space on the gallery wall for female Australian artists.”

After nearly 300 years, Royal Collection Trust’s conservators discovered a lucky token hidden by Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera in the frame of one of her pastel works.

Cornelia Parker discusses her role as the first woman and conceptual artist to be chosen for the role of U.K.’s official election artist.

Coco Picard’s The Chronicles of Fortune is a story about learning how to grapple with the role of death in life.

Art collector and patron Agnes Gund sells Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece for $150 million to create a fund “that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.”

AIGA presents 5 powerful projects designed by and for women to address the cultural stigma behind abortion.

Jenny Holzer’s new works “put unexpected things into unlikely places” to address tensions and inequality in contemporary society.

Merrill Wagner uses tape and Plexiglas to craft “measured, stark, ravishing” work.

Two-time Turner Prize nominee and Royal Academy member Alison Wilding discusses her most recent exhibition.

An Atlantic review of Anne Helen Petersen’s new book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman explores contemporary culture, which “claims to celebrate women but often, politically and culturally, puts them in a bind.”

Susan Silton stages an all-woman production of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.”

Yoko Ono—after 46 years—is credited as co-writer of the song “Imagine.”

Shows We Want to See

Writer Zadie Smith profiles British-Ghanaian artist Yiadom-Boakye in honor of her recent exhibition at New York’s New Museum, Under-Song for a Cipher.

Lenka Clayton is “highly attuned to the rhythms of everyday life” in the exhibition Object Temporarily Removed at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Jaonua: The Nothingness, a five-channel video installation, is on view through July 28 at Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York City.

Tate Modern prepares to exhibit work by the trailblazing Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid.

A new survey of paintings by Lisa Yuskavage is on view at David Zwirner gallery, London.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant and Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Can Art Rouse the Spirit? Experience “Revival” this Summer!

On June 23, NMWA’s second floor will come alive with brilliant contemporary sculpture and photo-based art by 16 women artists in the summer exhibition Revival. The show explores the featured artists’ representations of the body, the child, and other creatures through a remarkable range of media, scale, and techniques.

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Hanging sculptures, video projections, and large-scale photographs create immersive, mesmeric environments while smaller meticulous works draw the viewer close, beckoning toward sensations that spark memory and emotion. Each artist connects to the unconscious through highly allusive depictions of human and other animal bodies. The artists in Revival employ a wide range of materials in their works. Working with hair, yarn, velvet, wax, marble, found objects, taxidermied birds, and lens-based media, to name a few, these artists explore materiality in meaningful and impactful ways.

In the triptych from the series Bullets Revisited #3 (2012), Lalla Essaydi portrays a reclining woman with her face turned toward the viewer, confronting the historical Orientalism of Western artists, particularly sexualized depictions of women. Upon a closer look, the viewer will notice that the figure’s body is covered in henna calligraphy, challenging the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form. The woman’s dress and surroundings are elaborately decorated with silver and gold bullet casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullet casings as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

In Cotton to Hair (2012), Sonya Clark juxtaposes a boll of cotton with human hair to allude to the history of slavery in the U.S., acknowledging cotton as a key contributor to U.S. trade and wealth in the early 1800s. Clark combines cotton with a tuft of dark human hair, referencing African American slaves who worked in the fields to create this wealth.

The exhibition features powerful works by Louise Bourgeois, Petah Coyne, Alison Saar, Joana Vasconcelos, Patricia Piccinini, alongside other artists featured in NMWA’s collection. Revival illuminates women who regenerate sculpture and photo-based art to profound expressive effect. A survey of the museum’s collection in its 30th year inspired this exhibition, which is enriched by important loans from public and private collections as well as artists’ studios.

Visit the museum and see Revival, on view from June 23 to September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Superwomen Assemble: Meet the Women Saving Comics

“Images play a crucial role in defining and controlling the political and social power to which individuals and marginalized groups have access,” stated filmmaker Pratibha Parmar. “The deeply ideological nature of imagery determines not only how other people think about us but how we think about ourselves.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

FRESH TALK: Who are the new superwomen of the universe? on June 14 will show how comics, in particular, can highlight what a society values through the heroes they revere. The imagery surrounding heroes often reveals ingrained notions and perceptions of people. In the comics landscape, hulking, white male characters are often the ideals—if not the standards—for heroism. Often the imagery surrounding women, people of color, and other marginalized groups skews towards abusive imaginings or stereotypes. Recently, however, more people within the comics community are making strides to subvert that trend.

Meet the women changing the universe of comics at the final Fresh Talk program of the Women, Arts, and Social Change 2016–17 season. Guest speakers include ComicMix.com columnist Emily S. Whitten as the moderator and Carolyn Cocca, author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation. Young Adult author Gabby Rivera will discuss her role writing for the queer Latina superheroine of the Marvel universe, America Chavez. Fresh Talk also features Ariell Johnson, the first black woman to open a comic book shop on the East Coast. “There are a lot of black girl geeks in the world but we are not at the forefront,” noted Johnson. “This store is also kind of a statement—we’re here, we’ve been here and we’re going to keep being here.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Illustrator Ashley A. Woods will share her experiences drawing for the series NIOBE: She is Life, the first internationally distributed comic with a black woman author, artist, and central character. Woods imbues renderings of Niobe, the title character of the series, with an earthly quality that enhances her supernatural features, while not obscuring her humanity. The series, charting the adventures of the fantastical half-elf, half human warrior, explores issues ranging from racism to religion. Woods’s artwork for the series provides long overdue proof that black women in fantasy comics are not out of place. If anything, they are powerful voices that need to be heard.

Save your spot for Fresh Talk on June 14 to meet the new wave of superheroines entering the comic universe, leading the fight for justice and dispelling traditional stereotypes. Follow the conversation through #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kimberly Colbert is a summer 2017 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Go Figure! Amy Sherald at NMWA

“These are my favorites,” said Amy Sherald, gesturing to two of her paintings on view in NMWA’s collection galleries. “It was a relief to walk in here and see these. There’s absolutely nothing that I would fix because I had all the time in the world.” After winning first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for the National Portrait Gallery, the Baltimore-based artist keeps a busy schedule. During an Artists in Conversation program at NMWA on May 9, Sherald shared her sources of inspiration and what she hopes viewers will take away from her work.

Amy Sherald at NMWA

Amy Sherald at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009) relates to Sherald’s life in Columbus, Georgia. “Once I moved to Baltimore I realized no one called me a ‘redbone,’” explained Sherald. “If you don’t know what a ‘redbone’ is…it refers to someone who is supposed to be of Native American, African, and European descent. So, in the South it was very race conscious. . . . My basketball coach called me ‘redbone,’ which I really didn’t mind. And then there were other people who I didn’t know who called me ‘redbone’…and I didn’t like it so much.”

Sherald explained her personal connection to the subject of It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind (2011), portraying a horseback rider holding a children’s toy unicorn. “I went to an equestrian riding camp when I was an adolescent,” said Sherald, who later developed the idea for the painting after seeing her friend’s mother do dressage. Sherald asked her friend, Christina, to model for the painting because she embodied the sophistication Sherald wanted to capture.

Both paintings are displayed on the same gallery wall as Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). “Frida Kahlo was one of my inspirations,” said Sherald. “When I changed my major from pre-med to painting, I had these ideas of painting a lot of the same things she did. I was talking to my art teacher Arturo Lindsay and he said, ‘look up Frida Kahlo.’” Sherald added, “I’m honored, to say the least.”

When discussing the impact of her paintings, Sherald told attendees, “I received emails from all kinds of people that see themselves in this work, and that’s really important too.” Sherald noted, “When you walk through a space like [the museum] you don’t always see this [gesturing to the figures in her paintings]. For me, this became really important, interjecting images of the underrepresented in the dominant circle narrative and making work that I felt would resonate in a way that art history can’t be told without it. . . . I consider myself an American Realist, maybe with a post-modern flare.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.