Black Deaf Artists Create, Discuss, and Command Respect

by Beverly Aarons

Black Deaf artists will host a free online panel discussion, Respeck Our Black Deaf Arts!, exploring the Black Deaf artist experience, their needs, their challenges, and their hard-won victories. Deaf and non-signing community members are invited to attend on Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 2 p.m.. Featured panelists include Earl Terry (curator), Fred Beam (performing artist/art collector), Michelle Banks (actress), Teraca Florence (writer), Awet Moges (artist), and Nyke Prince (model/entertainer), and Rezenet Moges-Riedel will moderate. I had the opportunity to talk to three of the panelists via a text interview where they shared more about their experience, the panel event, and how they hope this discussion will impact the community.

Earl Terry, the curator of Respeck Our Black Deaf Arts!, has a long history of curating Deaf people of color artworks and presenting them to the Deaf and non-signing community. His curated and co-curated exhibitions include “Unfolding the Soul of the Black Deaf Expressions” (2016) and “Arte de Corazon” (2017). When he agreed to the interview, it was clear that his latest project held significant importance to him.

“It is important for Black Deaf artists to create arts, documenting their journey, struggles, and intersectionality experience,” Terry said. “Just like white, we have racism in our Deaf community. We need to educate the community in order to end violence in our community. What I meant by violence, I am talking about racism, audism, ableism, and other isms.”

One of the goals of the panel is to share the Black Deaf arts experience but to also reach other Black Deaf artists so that they can build community and offer resources such as “workshops, financial support, and places to show their works,” Terry said. Terry hopes to attract more patrons as Black Deaf artists have fewer funding resources than their white counterparts.

“Before the exhibition in 2016, we didn’t have many patrons nor do people understand what they can do to help Deaf artists of color as patrons,” Terry said. “Deaf artists of color needs are uniquely different from white Deaf artists.”

Deaf artists of color do not have the same access to support and resources as white Deaf artists. Terry said that it isn’t uncommon for a Deaf artist of color to lack the money to buy supplies. That lack of support also means a lack of mentors who understand the unique experiences and challenges of Deaf artists of color. Graphic novelist and fellow panelist Awet Moges knows what it’s like to grow up without support from Deaf Black artist mentors, so he is determined to support the younger generation of Black Deaf artists.

“I feel obligated to share my experience with the signed community,” Moges said as he shared his reasons for joining the panel. “This is because I grew up without any Deaf role models, much less a Black Deaf one. It took me a lifetime to figure this out: If you cannot find one, you must become one.”

An accomplished graphic novelist, Moges is the author of Pantheon, a graphic novel series, and he sells commissioned visual art to private and commercial clients. What should attendees get out of the Respeck Our Black Deaf Arts! panel? Moges hopes it will be “inspiration.”

“I hope the panel inspires people to make art,” Moges said. “I believe art is a powerful therapeutic tool. People in prisons who are allowed to make their own films actually find a way to sublimate their trauma and experience, and may be healthier and better able to cope with society once they leave. I want the Deaf and others in the signed community to believe that they can make art too, despite the general skepticism of friends and family.”

Tereca Florence, a writer, performer, poetess, and songwriter, is clear about serving as an inspiration for emerging Black Deaf artists. She wants to “share the existence of the Deaf Black writers out there” and “show the younger generations we exist.” Florence will share her own writer’s journey with the event attendees so that she can inspire a younger generation of Black Deaf writers to scribe their own stories.

“I truly feel the Black Deaf arts is a catalyst for the movement we’re embarking at this moment. Before this, we have not heard of the Black Deaf arts until recent years. We are developing the existence of Black Deaf arts while experiencing our journeys as artists,” Florence said. “ … Historically, everything has been taken away from us, from our families to our livelihoods. Black Deaf arts is our reclamation to the power we have with our arts. Without our arts, we are like ashes. We are seen but forever gone. We do not want to be ashes forever forgotten; we want to be the ashes people remember.”

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 is a wikicommons photo