I mentioned in my last post how it’s such a dynamic time to be a strong, gifted and black woman. If you don’t feel it, if you don’t see it, you absolutely will soon enough. At TILA, we’re playing our part to ensure that black women artists have space to bloom and grow. While this movement could have taken place anywhere, the soil in Atlanta is fertile ground for us to plant our roots.
Similarly, national artist Angela Davis Johnson is continuing to create magic here on the tails of her solo exhibition BLU BLAK at MINT Gallery last July. This means a lot for someone who calls herself nomadic and whose work has manifested from several states on the eastern side of the country, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Michigan and various other places.
Consequently, one part of BLU BLAK is on display in Arkansas right now.
Presently, Johnson is turning her attention to the next phase of the project. It’s big. And it would be a remarkable contribution to the Atlanta art scene, where during our conversation we discussed what’s taken root here. We broke down what makes it so electric right now, TILA’s part and what it means for the future of her work and the work of all black women artists.
What is the status of BLU BLAK right now? Where is BLU BLAK heading?
The status of BLU BLAK is kind of, like, in multiple parts. BLU BLAK the exhibition was more of, like, an experiential installation. So it had multiple parts. One part of it is at the Bradbury Art Museum in Jonesboro, Arkansas. It was the part where all of the portraits of black women Atlanta creatives, including my grandmother. Those works are currently exhibiting there. And I spoke to the director and she said that the turnout has been really great and there’s been a lot of enthusiasm behind and for the work. So that made me happy.
Another component or piece of BLU BLAK is conceptual. That is now growing into a large scale project that I hope to create here in Atlanta in a few years. Right now it’s in the early stages of research. It’s called BLAK Bodies Dancing in BLU Holes. I want to talk about environmental justice, shifting communities, and gentrification that’s happening here in Atlanta through having micro performances or gatherings. I want to create sculptures from that work that will ultimately culminate in a large procession. So that’s the direction that BLU BLAK is going in. From the gallery space to like a neighborhood or city space.
Right now the work that I’ve been doing since 2015 really strong is the Hollerin’ Space. And the Hollerin’ Space was created with Philadelphia multimedia artist Muthi Reed. We’ve been creating experiential work. Work that deals with black folks technology on how to survive and thrive in society. It considers the personal, the process in dealing with everyday life as black people. Our ancestral lineage. So I’ve been doing this type of work with Muthi for years now. BLU BLAK just happened to take root in Atlanta. The Hollerin’ Space will be here through BLAK Bodies Dancing in BLU Holes.
(Note: Johnson mentions that Reed did BLU BLAK in Philly differently in the work House of Black Infinity.)
How does Atlanta and TILA play a part in the arts scene for black women right now?
Upon meeting Tiffany, I was able to come into the TILA space and it’s been a source of, not only inspiration, but hardcore or bottom line support. This space personally gave me confidence to create the works that I am creating now. Also, the support of participating in my exhibition, not only showing up but several people from TILA or who I met through TILA came and sat with me during my gathering spaces for my exhibition.
And to me, I feel like TILA is the way that Atlanta is going, especially for black women artists.
I think they are pushing and creating a container for us to make Atlanta the place where phenomenal artists are coming. There’s a lot of talent here. There are a lot of brilliant folks here and having a container to cultivate that… I think Atlanta’s been needing that. Thinking of artists I met through Ain’t I A Woman, all of these people I did not know before TILA and how they’ve inspired me. Seeing their work and how it pushes me. And it’s really through this container called TILA.
What other artists are inspiring you locally and nationally?
The first person that comes to my mind is Sheila Pree Bright. How she moves, her work, the brilliance that she just is. I’m inspired by Shanequa Gay. My God, her work is so layered and intricate. I’m inspired by Iman Person. I’m inspired by Danielle Deadwyler. How she’s shifting, to be an actor, a performance artist and then to see her visual work, it’s just mind blowing.
And then on a national scale, I’m always going to mention Carrie Mae Weems, Jordan Casteel, Amy Sherald, Wangechi Mutu. They help me to settle my voice and go harder. It just makes me want to do and grow and be more. I could continue to go on. There’s like so many in different disciplines too, like Diana Al-Hadid. These artists the way that their approaching their particular craft… It charges me to go harder with mine and to experiment. To tell stories through different mediums.
As you continue to build on your body of work, what affect do you hope it will have? What do you hope people in the future will be able to take away from your work and the work of other black women artists?
I try to move through the world like the future is now. And the past is now. It’s all here. So how do I want to show up for myself? How do I want to show up and be myself in relationship to others?
I want people to feel and embrace and be joyous in the prayers of my great-grandparents. I feel like what they prayed for is happening now. The freedom to be myself. The freedom to exist. The freedom to be, like… joyous.
I want people to feel the complexity of the embodied experience of black womenhood. I want people to feel that when they see my work. We’re not just superheroes. We are all things. We are souls living this life. I want people to experience that in my work, feel the depths of that. I want people to recognize and feel their soul. See the thing beyond the construct, which is light, you know. To me it’s like the past, present and future. It’s all happening right now in this moment. I want people to feel that when they come by my work, when they’re away from it. I want people to witness all of that in all of our works.
We are looking forward to more from Johnson in due time. Her work not only captivates us, but allows us to fully see ourselves. In her own words, that’s clearly the point. We are rallying for her and all the women like her around the country who are honing their practice and offering something beautiful, daring and revolutionary to show the world.