by Chamidae Ford
In a riveting new exhibit on the many ways the Black female body is gentrified, Anastacia-Reneé brings us into her character Alice Metropolis’s life as she struggles with breast cancer, white supremacy, redlining, and the gentrification of her neighborhood.
This immersive new exhibit, called (Don’t Be Absurd) Alice in Parts, combines video, poetry, art installations, audio tracks, and photography to tell the story of Alice Metropolis.
During the virtual opening night event, hosted by Dani Tirrell, Anastacia-Reneé emphasized that the goal of her exhibit was to highlight the parallels of the gentrification of the Black physical space, the Black body, and the Black mind.
“More people are open to talk about [physical gentrification] than they are about medical racism,” Anastacia-Reneé said at the virtual event.
Anastacia-Reneé uses Alice Metropolis’s experience with breast cancer and spreading cancer cells to depict the gentrification within her body and the ways white supremacy played a role in her disease.
“I chose breast cancer because still there is a lot of medical racism. We know that white women are diagnosed more with breast cancer, but more Black women die. And that is because the medical industry still ignores Black women,” Anastacia-Reneé said in an interview with the Emerald.
Anastacia-Reneé also wanted the Black breast to be depicted beyond its hypersexualized way. During an interview with the Emerald, she explained how often, the Black breast is confined to being an object of desire, rather than an aspect of the Black body.
“I feel like the Black woman’s breast isn’t shown unless it’s porn. If it’s fun, people are all for it,” Anastacia-Reneé said. “But if it’s something like [a breast exam], people tend to cringe or turn away. And I wanted to say, ‘You don’t get to turn away. You need to see the Black breast and think about the Black body in different ways.’”
During the exhibit’s virtual opening, Anastacia-Reneé spoke of another type of cancer that plagues the Black female: the cancer of “keep it moving.”
“The metaphorical Black woman’s cancer of ‘she is so strong, the Black woman is so strong she can get through anything, she is a superhero not given her accolades, she can do everything, she can take care of everybody,’” Anastacia-Reneé said.
Throughout the exhibit, when Alice talks of her struggles, she explains how despite these setbacks she “keeps it moving.” Alice refuses to slow down; she hopes that pushing on will solve her problems.
“Black women do that to ourselves too; we are so prideful we are so afraid to ask for help because if you ask for help, it makes you look weak,” Anastacia-Reneé said.
Jessica Rycheal, a multidisciplinary artist who participated in the recitation of a poem written by Anastacia-Reneé at the opening event, also spoke of the expectations placed on Black women. Rycheal talked about why society views Black women as too much yet not enough.
“Black women aren’t the problem; it’s everybody else and their expectations and entitlement to define what Black women should be and how they should show up and what Black women should contribute,” Rycheal said. “Everybody else gets to move through the world and decide how they want to be, who they want to be, where they want to go, but for whatever reason when it comes to Black women, people kind of treat us like puppets.”
Rycheals statement echoed the messages that appeared in Anastacia-Reneé’s exhibit: Stop sexualizing, stop gentrifying, stop hurting Black women.
Another Black woman whose beliefs and messages appear in Anastacia-Reneé’s exhibit is the poet and activist, Audre Lorde.
Inside (Don’t Be Absurd) Alice in Parts, Anastacia-Reneé has created a shrine to the great poet. She wrote 10 commandments to follow, pulling direct quotes and paraphrasing Lorde’s ideas from her work. Anastacia-Reneé and her character Alice Metropolis are drawn to the words of Audre Lorde for different reasons, but both have strong connections to the writer.
“For the Alice character, the reason why she loves Audre Lorde so much is because, in her eyes, Audre Lorde survived cancer and was able to push through it. And so Alice looked to her as a model, like ‘If you could be diagnosed and you could do all that and still be who you are, I can do it too,’” Anastacia-Reneé said in an interview with the Emerald. “For me, Anastacia, Audre Lorde is like an ancestor. You know, there are ancestors by blood, vision, or mission. And in terms of her writing her poetry, her essays, her thoughts, her fights, I feel deeply connected to Audre Lord as well.”
Throughout Anastacia-Reneé’s exhibit, Alice works to better herself. She’s in therapy, she does yoga, she is quitting smoking, she talks of drinking more smoothies, but despite these lifestyle choices, the exhibit concludes with Alice dying.
“I just want it to be honest,” Anastacia-Reneé told the Emerald. “Black women are dying. It doesn’t always end with her going to pilates, changing her diet. And then, you know, everything’s fine. We wouldn’t be so angry.”
During the virtual opening, following the recitation of Anastacia-Reneé’s poem, the seven artists who took part participated in an open discussion where Tirrell urged them to think deeply about being in a Black body.
Tirrell asked the room where they think we “get it wrong” with Alice’s story. Reagan Jackson, program director for Young Women Empowered and one of the performers, said, “I think we get it wrong if we think it’s just Alice’s story. We get it wrong when we don’t allow other people to take responsibility for the ways that they negatively impact us on the daily.”
Alice’s life reflects many of the experiences that Black women face. Anastacia-Reneé wanted this exhibit to represent that.
“I have a love and respect for Black people and Black women and this exhibit is for them,” Anastacia-Reneé said. “I want them to know I’m thinking about you and you are on my mind.”
As for non-Black people and women, Tirrell addressed them during his opening statement at the virtual event in a way that drives home the importance of this exhibit for everyone.
“For those of you who don’t understand the Black woman’s voice, it is okay, it is not for you to understand. If you are watching this and you have no clue what you are watching, you are in the right space.”
Supporting, listening, and engaging with Black artists is essential to creating change, even if you can’t fully understand their experience.
(Don’t Be Absurd) Alice in Parts represents a unique opportunity to witness all the ways gentrification impacts the Black body and a chance to delve deeper into the mind of a Black woman.
Jackson put it simply, “All the things that Anastacia puts into her work are the words that we don’t say in public.”
You can watch the virtual opening on Youtube.
In Phase 2, the Frye will reopen to the public at a limited capacity beginning Feb. 11 where you will be able to see the exhibit in person. You can see more COVID-19 updates on their response page.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
Featured image courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.
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