by Lisa Edge
In Lisa Myers Bulmash’s home, a new item commemorates her contest winner status — a cerulean pageant sash. The phrase “Miss Thang 2021” is written across it, and a rhinestone-encrusted safety pin ensures it stays in place. Bulmash can’t help but laugh when she talks about her husband’s playful gift.
Bulmash is a mixed media artist who creates altered books, assemblages, and collages. Often narrative, Bulmash’s work is layered and thought-provoking. These days she’s adjusting to the flood of attention and compliments she’s received after being selected as the artist to represent the “DNA and Soul of Black Art in Seattle.” The designation comes with the opportunity to be featured in an upcoming documentary series titled “The Story of Art in America.” Legit Productions teamed up with Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) to select the artist from more than 40 nominations and applications NAAM received.
When Bulmash read about the contest, she didn’t immediately think of herself as fitting the description. Rather, Inye Wokoma and Elisheba Johnson came to mind first. Both are two of the four co-founders of Wa Na Wari, a Black art center in the Central District. Bulmash chose not to apply, but Christine Stoll, a friend and fellow artist was compelled to nominate her.
“Her artwork offers insight into Black history and Black lives. I think some of the best examples of her work are hanging in the Liberty Bank Building in the Central District,” Stoll said. “I love her use of everyday materials in each of her pieces that she uses to build a story.”
Bulmash told Stoll she didn’t mind if she nominated her and didn’t give the outcome too much thought. That is until NAAM chose Bulmash as one of the four finalists. In February, the museum asked their social media followers to vote, and after several weeks, Bulmash won. Representing the DNA and soul of Black art in Seattle is a tall order, but Bulmash is ready.
“I think of it as high praise but, from my viewpoint, praise of my particular Black art,” Bulmash said. “I’m a representative, but not the representative.”
Bulmash began publicly exhibiting her work in 2010. Currently, her work is on view at Wa Na Wari in a show titled “Holding Patterns,” which runs until July 18. The first piece visitors see in the exhibition is a collage on paper titled “Suspension.” It shows a classic one-room school building with a bell tower, surrounded by a stone fence. There is a detailed reflection of the schoolhouse, as if in a body of water, below. A black-and-white photo of school children sitting at a table doing classwork, while a teacher looks on, is layered on top of the reflected schoolhouse image. The collage is Bulmash’s take on remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the suspension it has produced, from not being able to go onto school property, to the months parents sat in limbo waiting on the green light for students to return physically to a classroom.
An altered book titled “Blaxit: Now Boarding ” is also in the exhibition. It centers on an Afro-Futurist fantasy of Black people fleeing racism on Earth via zeppelins outfitted for space travel. In all, 11 works are on display at Wa Na Wari.
Bulmash’s works are connected through the materials she uses and her artistic motivation. For her, there are things to celebrate and many to criticize in our country that has old roots. She focuses on the vulnerability of Black bodies.
Bulmash regularly scours the online Library of Congress and New York Public Library for pre-1900 copyright-free images to use in her work. She also visits second hand stores for items that can explain her point of view. Her works are connected through the materials she uses and her artistic motivation.
“I use older material, older images partly in recognition of the fact that things like police and vigilante violence against Black people are not a new thing,” Bulmash said. “They’re not from the ‘60s; they’re not from the ‘90s. They’ve been here since before we were a country.”
She’ll use a nearly 200-year-old image to reinforce the point, because unfortunately, there’s a version of it happening in 2021.
Now that her work is destined for an audience more extensive than the greater Seattle area, the docuseries will also bring more awareness to the medium Bulmash uses to explore her point of view. Within visual art, painting and sculpture often receive an abundance of attention, but mixed media is gaining more traction. After years of producing art, assemblage artist Betty Saar and mixed media artist Deborah Roberts now have national recognition.
Once complete, “The Story of Art in America” will explore the diversity of America’s arts and culture scene in ten 22-minute episodes. It will be released on Amazon Prime and other yet-to-be-announced streaming services later this year. Bulmash will be featured alongside artists from different cities including Santa Fe, N.M., Casper, Wyo., and Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.
The spotlight on Bulmash’s work in the documentary series is an essential reminder for those who may not think of the Pacific Northwest as having a community of working Black artists. While all may not be showing at a well-known fine art gallery, their point of view is just as relevant.
“Persistence is the DNA and soul of Black art in Seattle,” Bulmash said. “We create work because we want to see ourselves represented here in the Northwest.”
Lisa Edge is an award-winning reporter who most recently covered the arts for Real Change. In 2013 she relocated to Seattle after working as a reporter and anchor at several television stations in the south. Lisa most enjoys telling stories about people and how they are making an impact with their voices.
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