by Beverly Aarons
Featuring five artists, a multitude of disciplines, and one goal to explore geographic, political, and aesthetic space for Black presence and citizenship in the United States, Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from St. Louis is a virtual exhibition currently running through Sunday, August 2, 2020. Presented by Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery, Abstractions of Black Citizenship features painting, photography, mixed media, works on paper, sculpture, and video artwork that explores the possibilities for being, belonging and togetherness for Black people in the United States.
This collective exhibit features St. Louis-based Black artists Dominic Chambers, Damon Davis, Jen Everett, Katherine Simóne Reynolds and De Nichols.
Nichols, a designer and social entrepreneur, creates civically-engaged art that archives personal and political moments through text, movement and geography. Her mixed-media piece, Black Notes, is included in this exhibition. She shared her thoughts on the project and her process in our interview.
“Black Notes is a subset of a larger project, a creative writing project that I have called ‘Sticky Notes To Self.’ And it was created in the midst of the uprising in Ferguson,” De Nichols said. “And I’d always been like a writer and a collector of notes, like a lover of sticky notes, because I’m a designer and sticky notes are utilized so much for synthesizing information and planning.”
Nichols first began creating these “notes to self” because she and some friends were trolled on Twitter. She didn’t want to give her energy to the trolls, so she decided to write a note to herself instead. The first one she wrote was “Do Right By People,” which she then posted online.
“It kind of carries two meanings,” Nichols said, speaking of her first note to self. “In one sense, that no matter who I encounter, what status they have, or what they’ve been through in life, the thing that I control is doing right by people. That is the way to live a good life, a life that I feel good about.”
But Nichols emphasized that there is a flip side to the meaning of her first note to self: “Even as people might attack me or think that what I’m doing is only for Black folks or is not inclusive enough, I’m going to make sure that I do right by my people. Because if we don’t take that responsibility I can’t necessarily depend on or trust, based upon historical record and what we’ve been through, that other folks are going to stand up and do right by us.”
Hundreds of notes are now part of Nichols’ notes to self collection but there are different kinds of notes for the various issues she addresses.
“Initially, all the notes were the traditional yellow notes,” Nichols said. “And then I had a whole series after my stepdad died, and I was going through a breakup where all the notes were in gray and then red because I was in a new relationship and talking about love. And with the black notes, it really became about speaking about the issues that I was going through as a young Black queer woman.”
And despite the numerous notes Nichols has written, she does have her favorites that she hopes will touch as many people as possible, “I am Broken and So Are You” is one of them.
“This is the one that I want people to feel, to know, almost in an affirming way, that there is love still within us,” Nichols said. “Even in our brokenness, you still have the capacity to give something, to give love, to give joy, to give life. If people walk away from that feeling affirmed in that belief, that’s enough for me.”
De Nichols hopes that Seattleites engage with the deeper issues explored in the exhibit and reflect upon how those social issues show up in their own communities. She extends an invitation to Seattle artists and activists to reach out to her and the other artists in Black Abstractions of Citizenship to foster deeper collaboration and conversation about how these social issues emerge within the Seattle cultural landscape.
Exhibition Website: http://abstractions.black/
Exhibition Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abstractions.black/
Exhibition Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/abstractions.black/
Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short-story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern-day unsung heroes. She’s currently working on a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration.
Featured image: Mending Keloid 12020 Resin Cast Katherine Simóne Reynolds (Photo courtesy of the artist)