Black Art in the Age of Trump: Ayana Ivery by LeRon Barton
In the inaugural series, Black art in the age of Trump, which highlights exciting new artists in the African Diaspora, we feature with MoAD Vanguard board member Ayana Ivery. She and I talk about self-expression through art, her contribution to The Black Woman is God exhibit, and why she aims to empower young Black girls with her work. This is #Blackwomanmagic
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Detroit, Michigan and we moved to California when I was three. I’ve lived in SF, south of France while I was in college, Denver, and back here because California is pretty much the best state in the United States.
Have you always been an artist?
No, the funny thing is, I didn’t really see myself as an artist, I was more into design. I took fashion and computer design classes and I learned Photoshop. I was essentially creating art, but I was not naming it that. It was through this art exhibit that allowed me to branch out and see what I could create if I didn’t have limitations.
How did you connect to the “Black Woman is God” exhibit?
I worked on the curator, Karen Sanefaru’s website and was always fascinated by her, because she carries herself like a walking art piece. Karen has a certain style: her clothing, head-wraps, and make-up or anything she adorns herself with. So I would see Karen and would be fascinated by this beautiful Black woman. She had put a call out to artists to show some art in the Black Woman is God art exhibit and I wanted to help out. I ended up doing the website for the show and Karen had asked me what art I was putting in the exhibit.
What is your piece called?
It is called the “Holy Trinity.” When I think of God and revolution, we have been inundated with this portrayals of God being this white, European looking person and it never really resonated with me fully. I wanted to not only address the fact that they were European, but that they were all male. So I decided to create something along the lines that answered the “Father, the son, and the holy spirit” with “The mother, the daughter, and the holy wisdom” to balance it out.
These are three strikingly beautiful statues. Couple of things that struck me: All these ladies are very regal, and lends to the Holy Trinity. They are all different colors and have different garments. Is there any specificity behind the colors?
Yes. When I was in High-school, I started going to this church called “Spirit of The Lotus.” That is where I learned about the balancing and the feminine in divinity and also where I learned about the mother, the daughter, and the holy wisdom. The thing is, there are no images or anything that I can reference or see with that. God is this all infinite being that you cannot see, so being able to see it in something that you can be reflected in as well, that is divine revolution: making you see yourself in a higher space or acknowledging yourself as a divine being. The busts are all different. The mother is the cradle, the hands, the womb, the fire, and the fury. I wanted to represent earth, mother-nature, and beauty and pay tribute to all the women who wear headdresses, wrap their hair, or wear anything in their hair because that is your crown. So I wanted to create really tall crowns that were reaching to the heavens, that is why they are three feet tall.
My favorite piece is the golden one that has this really beautiful mask that doesn’t cover the eyes, but covers the mouth. Can you talk a little bit about that?
They all have masks because it is not about their face, but the feeling you get when you see a face but it is covered up, and you are supposed to be looking up at the crown.
What has the reception been for this piece?
I have gotten a lot of positive feedback.
This exhibit is full of other Black women artists. How does it feel to be in a space with all these beautiful Black women creating?
It’s pretty much one of the best feelings ever. If there were hammocks in here with chocolate and wine or whatever you wanted, that is the only way this would get better. I just feel so supported, held, challenged, and encouraged and not judged. It is the warmest feeling.
This is in San Francisco, a city that is not kind to Black people. What are your thoughts to this exhibit being in San Francisco but not in Oakland?
I think it is coming to Oakland (laughs). I am glad it is in the city because we needed this. We need to activate this in San Francisco to let people know we are still here.
This is like smoke signals to Black people. “Come one come all..”
Oh yes, people have been traveling far and wide to see it.
That’s super dope. Ayana, you and I are in 2017 and we have a despot as a leader, an unrefined white supremacist. What is the importance of an artist in this time period and as a Black woman, does that take on even more responsibility?
As far as creating something in the age of Trump, that mockery of the presidency. I feel like this exhibit creates a place of healing from it.
What do you hope people will get from seeing your beautiful exhibit?
I would really appreciate it if lots of young women came, like teenagers, pre-teens, little girls… I want them to see Black women in beauty. See different forms of Black women in their beauty celebrated. This is a celebration of the black women in your family like your grandmother, your mother, your aunties, and all of them that have raised you and tied your hair up when you were a baby. The ones that raised our community. I want young girls to see it and feel something inside themselves. I want them to be activated and know that they are these precious beings and there are so many Black women here that want to lift them up and not tear them down.
Any artists you looked up to?
Cara Walker, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kit, Josephine Baker, Betty Davis.
A lot of powerful Black women there.
They were so fierce! Oh yeah, Grace Jones and Dorothy Dandridge. They all embodied art.
What is next?
I looking into more materials for creating my art and more mediums. It has been a fun journey so far.
Check out Ayana’s new work and other artists at the REMEMBRANCE AND RESISTANCE: DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS EXHIBITION, OCTOBER 6–NOVEMBER 9, 2017 AT SOMA ARTS.
– LeRon Barton