Photo depicting people wandering through and chatting about the gallery.

The Works of Local Black Women Artists Shine at Gallery Onyx’s ‘Embrace Equity’

by Victor Simoes

From March 7 to May 12 the Onyx Fine Arts Collective celebrates Black women artists with “Embrace Equity.” The 48 works by 28 artists not only celebrate artistic excellence but create a discussion on equity and equality. It is the first gallery opening for many of these artists, whose artwork includes paintings and mixed-media compositions that incorporate collage and textile work into the canvas. 

Featured in the exhibition poster, Fin’es Scott’s work explores the colorful intersection between ecology and Black joy. Scott’s pieces question the insistence of art critics on differentiating art and what qualifies as just craftsmanship, highlighting the underappreciation of primarily feminine activities in the art world, like embroidery. Scott’s most recent piece, Bouquet, mixes cotton, ink, and crystals to create the silhouette of a Black woman whose hair and body are formed by a collection of flowers. 

Other exhibition highlights include Megan Patterson, who explores the divinity of Black women in her vibrant and multicolored acrylic paintings that mix fantasy and day-to-day elements to portray the elaborate magic of BIPOC bodies. And Doreen Mitchum, who mixes collage and painting in her multimedia canvas to depict Black women against a monotone background with organic stylized patterns constructed in collage. 

The exhibition’s theme, “Embrace Equity,” adopts the International Women’s Day 2023 campaign of the same name that seeks to differentiate the concepts of gender equality and equity. Gallery Onyx board member Sharon Sobers-Outlaw explained that contrary to what many people think, gender equity and gender equality are not synonymous. Equality is based on the principle of universality; everyone should be governed by the same rules and have the same rights and duties. Equity, however, recognizes that people are different and that this “imbalance” needs to be adjusted.

“Embracing equity is excellent because we’re doing so much around equality and inclusion these days, but we also need to discuss equity,” said Sobers-Outlaw. “This means we all start at the same place and can progress in any endeavor we wish to pursue.”

Gender equity attempts historical reparation to eliminate discrimination against women by recognizing gender-specific needs. Gender equity encompasses the guarantee in law that all people should receive equal treatment and a material understanding of the idea that people of different genders live distinct experiences that must be considered to guarantee their rights. 

Photo depicting a group of Black-presenting individuals in a gallery space laughing together.
Gallery Onyx board members Ruffin (far right) and Sharon Sober-Outlaw (far left) at the “Embrace Equity” exhibition reception at Midtown Square, March 7, 2023. Sharon Sober-Outlaw has volunteered with the Onyx Fine Art Project for six years and recently became a board member and part of the jury for the “Embrace Equity” exhibition. (Photo: Jay Taylor Photography)

The show also features many first-time exhibitors, Black women artists who have been making art for years but have never had the opportunity or support to show their work to a larger audience. Kubi Melanie Thomas is one of those who hung her work on a gallery wall for the first time atEmbrace Equity.” She was encouraged by fellow Black women artists to submit her work for the exhibition, where her art finally found a place. 

Through a poem shared with Sobers-Outlaw, Thomas expressed that artistry was always a big part of her life. However, because of her position in society as a Black Woman, she felt like the gallery spaces and the arts, in general, were not places she could exist in: 

We Get It!

Women like me

Lie about the hurt, the pain, the abandonments, the lack of protection

We push the agenda to make everything be ok even when it’s not

Until we know it’s ok to not be ok

We are covered with high levels of intense, heavy dirt, capped with a SMILE!

We don’t ask for help until the damage is irreversible

We are expected to make a happy life for everyone around us but then, 
we get it … Happiness is for us too.

Sobers-Outlaw told the Emerald that a significant part of the work to make “Embrace Equity” happen was building trust and confidence between the gallery staff and the artists, making them understand that as Black women, the gallery is a place for them as well.

“This has been a groundbreaking experience,” said Sobers-Outlaw. “We all start from one space, and we’re always moving forward to get access and doing it as a community.”

After “Embrace Equity,” the Onyx Fine Arts Collective will launch a quarterly meet-up program for women artists. The series of events will provide a space for Black women, a rarity due to gender and race-based oppression, to get together and be inspired by each other. Sobers-Outlaw told the Emerald that this project is dedicated to embracing the turbulence and barriers women artists experience and sharing more about how they deal with it through self-expression and their art practices. 

“This exhibit is an authentic cultural depiction of the experience of descendants of the African diaspora,” said Sobers-Outlaw. “It showcases our joy, pain and our ability to overcome adversity.”

“Embrace Equity” runs through May 12 at Gallery Onyx at Arte Noir, 2301 E. Union St. The space is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is free to the public.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: People gather at the “Embrace Equity” exhibition reception event in Gallery Onyx at Midtown Square, March 7, 2023. Onyx Fine Arts Collective will host a closing reception on April 22 featuring the African-American Writers Alliance. (Photo: Jay Taylor Photography)

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