Girls of D.C.

At the first mention of Washington, D.C the first thing people think about is the White House. It’s safe to say that DC is not known for the artistic youth that live and work in the crevices of this capital city, slowly stirring up an artistic revolution that is sure to take the art scene by storm this year. The women of colour making art in the DMV (D.C, Maryland, and Virginia) area are slowly gaining a reputation as the underground’s best kept secret. From photographers to curators to DJs, this city has accumulated a squad of visionaries and game changers that are on the come up. I got to talk to some of the brightest female and femme identifying artists of colour from the capital city about what they do, obstacles the face, and their opinions on the current art climate amongst the youth.

Rakeb

rakeb3

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rakeb. I am 19 years old, Ethiopian, student and an artist.

How long have you been honing your craft?

I have been honing my craft since freshman [year] in high school but photography became serious for me during my senior year in high school. That’s when I realized how much I love it. I learned everything I know from my high school photography teacher, Daniel Kempner, who is also my mentor now.

What obstacles do you face as a woman or femme identifying person of colour trying to find her place in the creative scene?

When I was starting out, people didn’t understand my craft. As a woman, I have a different view on [a] situation and it varies how I want to portray it. I want to showcase my art/craft in a unique way. At times, it was misunderstood but someone told me to not think about the rules and just create something I would be proud of.

What do you think is needed right now in the art scene, what do you think is missing?

 I was not [introduced] to the art scene until a year ago. So far, I have found some amazing people and places where art and music is needed. It is important for people, especially young artists, to work and improve on their craft. There is always something to improve. Everyone needs to be acknowledged for their work because it is not easy being an artist in the DMV area.

How do you intend to use your art to improve or better the art scene in your community and at large, if at all?

My art is mostly fashion photography so I use it to showcase the style in DMV area and how everyone is unique in their own way. I intend to use my craft to push people into accepting who they are and how being different is cool and rare. I also want to showcase [different] body types and how everyone is special and important. I want the world to know that I am excited for the unknown that is to come.

What do you want the world to know about you?

I am not afraid to be outside my comfort zone when it comes to my art and love to collaborate with other artists.

@rakeb.photos

http://www.rakeb-photos.com/

Ayana Zaire

ayana1

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Ayana Zaire, I’m 22 years old and I am an artist and creative director/EIC of Distrikt. I also work at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in digital art programming within ARTLAB+.

How long have you been honing your craft?
Most recently I’ve been working on a series of sewing projects. I’ve been sewing since high school. But with Distrikt, as creative director and chief editor, I guess I’ve been honing my eye and craft of content production and curation since elementary school. It started once I picked up my first magazine and created collages from the pages. It started once I started incessantly remixing my school uniform to create new/different looks. It started at 5 years old when I was questioning everything.

What obstacles do you face as a woman or femme identifying person of colour trying to find her place in the creative scene?

None really. Any obstacle I’ve faced so far I created them in my head. Which is always weird to say but I guess I don’t surround myself with or work with people who would invent obstacles to my creative expression because I’m a black woman. Also I could be extremely naive and not really notice. But if anything my identity has 100% empowered and inspired me.

What do you think is needed right now in the art scene, what do you think is missing?

A revolution in the elitist art world where we tear down the ‘system’ and rebuild it so the people have ownership over the art/culture that is their God given right to have access to. I also wish no one was hesitant to express their creativity. But until then…We need less identity work where black artists are making a case to others regarding their humanhood and value in the world and more work where black artists are using their craft to talk to each other, to empower each other. 

How do you intend to use your art to improve or better the art scene in your community and at large, if at all?
My biggest project to date has been Distrikt and we’re showcasing the art, style, and culture of the young creative community in the DC metro area. We’re building an accessible archive of DC area youth culture. We not only hope this showcasing platform is connecting the creative community but we like to think we are using Distrikt as an agent to engage in a larger political conversation through our expression; empowering artists to view creating so close to where world changing decisions are made as a powerful benefit — one that no other city has. Long story short, hopefully Distrikt is doing a good job showcasing, connecting, and empowering our creative community here in Washington. As Creative Director and Editor in Chief I come up with content direction, photoshoot concepts, writing prompts, curated contributors, etc. to reinforce the values above.

What do you want the world to know about you?

I love you and I’m just getting started.

distriktdc.com

@ayanazaire

Anisa and Jess (JESSxFEMI)

anisa and jess

Who are you and what do you do?

A: My name is Anisa McGowan, I’m a visual artist and event curator based in the DMV.

J: My name is Jessica Udeh, I am a DMV based DJ and event curator, who also dabbles in production.

How long have you been honing your craft?

A: I’ve been practicing visual art consistently since 2014, I began my work in event planning in early 2015.

J: I have been making mixes and DJ’ing for about a year and a half and curating events for almost a year.

What obstacles do you face as a woman or femme identifying person of colour trying to find her place in the creative scene?

A: As a black identifying woman it can be very difficult to navigate through my local creative scene. I’m a black girl who considers herself a dedicated and driven artist. In 2016 that image still isn’t received well if it threatens the creative ego of cis heterosexual men. When I work with men I feel the need to be especially forthright and tenacious, so they don’t make the mistake of underestimating me.

J: As a woman of color in the music scene I feel like I am constantly under male scrutiny. Guys think you’re not smart enough or creative enough to grasp certain concepts or produce certain work. Creativity is an attribute that is often attributed to cis men and cis men only.

What do you think is needed right now in the art scene, what do you think is missing?

A: I think what is needed the most is sincerity.

J: I think the art scene needs more honesty, genuine honesty, not malicious honesty that’s shared with the intent to harm one’s feelings.

How do you intend to use your art to improve or better the art scene in your community and at large, if at all?

A: I aim to create art that is very personal and intimate. Something maybe not everyone, if anyone at all, will fully grasp in the same way I do. As a visual artist I’ve realized it’s my job to bring something into the world that otherwise wouldn’t exist. My hope is that by doing so I’ll inspire other artists to do the same, and that something very profound can grow from that.

J: I intend to create timeless, genuine, music. I feel like the scene is a tad oversaturated with people just making music for a quick come up.

What do you want the world to know about you?

A: I want the world to understand that as an artist, I create culture, I’m not a slave to it. I don’t feel like my work needs to become commodified and easily marketable. If I wanted to conform based on what people want me to do I might as well have a cubicle job.

J: I want the world to know that I think it’s important to remain human no matter how far you go. I sometimes have people tell me I shouldn’t say the things I do, but I’m a person and I’m allowed to feel my own emotions.

www.uwantjessxfemi.com

Reuel Lara

reuel

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Reuel Lara and I’m a photographer from DC.

How long have you been honing your craft?

I’ve been taking pictures for about seven months now.

What obstacles do you face as a woman or femme identifying person of colour trying to find her place in the creative scene?

As a femme identifying person of color, I face many obstacles in the creative scene. One would be the misconception of me exploiting women/girls by creating images of them in lascivious ways, but in reality when I photograph my amazing girlfriends I want to create a space where they can be celebrated and represented. I don’t aim to use the female body as an object and all the time, I get bombarded with a barrage of negativity regarding the fact that I am a male. This negativity is concerning not because of how it affects me and my art, but because of what is says about our culture. I don’t identify as a male and it saddens me to think that people don’t understand that gender is a construct and anyone who enforces these gender dichotomies are victims of mainstream culture’s garbage being shoved down our throats. It’s sad to think that gender fluid/ asexual/femme identifying parties can’t create work wherein the female body can have a voice rather than the subject of exploitation. As an artist who chooses not to be neutral in these situations, I can’t sit here and be ostracized because then I feel like the women/girls/whatever I have photographed have been ostracized. I don’t create these images for the male gaze but to emphasize the importance that women don’t need permission to do what they want.

What do you think is needed right now in the art scene, what do you think is missing?

The art scene is flourishing at the moment, however representation on the individual aspect is lacking. I sometimes feel like you need an invitation to be accepted into the art scene and in fact this whole ‘scene’ is not a space for exclusivity. There’s so many great forms of art in the world, and people are obligated to participate in it or not. Hell, even fashion is a form of art, an art form that’s more telling from an anthropological than any other form of art because it is so wrapped in the way our lives function on a day-to-day basis. But I often wonder, if people think like this and that’s where it gets cloudy and judgmental. Going back to the latter, I think people don’t often critically think about their opinions. They’ll judge your art based on a personal level, like who follows you on social media, who you know, etc. and that to me is bullshit. Art is subjective, and who you know, who you’ve worked with, etc. shouldn’t be the determining factor of whether or not your work should be justified. There’s so many great artists, especially from the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) (also side note, it’s sad to have to write “DC Maryland Virginia” because not a lot of people know what DMV is, showing that representation is lacking in my hood) that don’t get enough representation because of the fact that they don’t live in NY or LA or whatever. Give these amazing artists the platform they deserve based on their work not because “oh this and that doesn’t follow them or they’re not in this magazine blah blah blah or they haven’t done one exhibition so I’m not about to fuck with them”. It’s 2016, lets all be progressive. Cut the fake shit and stand with one another because we all can’t be oppressed artists anymore. We all deserve to have representation for the work that we put out there.

How do you intend to use your art to improve or better the art scene in your community and at large, if at all?

With my art I like to think that I’m just a small contributing portion to a larger, grand response. With my art, I want to be able to show that women don’t need permission to do what they want. I don’t ever want  people to misconstrue my art as exploitation. I want my art to be a celebration. A celebration of all the amazing women/girls/whatever that I photograph. My art is not about me but it’s about the people/things I love and deserve to be celebrated/represented.

What do you want the world to know about you?

I want the world to know that my art is not about me. My art is homage. An homage to all the amazing people that I’ve encountered in my life; their stories that impacted me in such a deep and emotional way. Through my art, I want the world to know that you don’t need to have permission to do what you want. Take the time to LEARN. Learning is important and when you challenge yourself and when you face your fears, you can do anything you want to, and THAT’S the most liberating experience.

@reuelklara

http://cargocollective.com/reuellara

Kyna Uwameh

kyna1

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kyna Uwaeme and I’m a Nigerian- American visual artist. I create visuals using video and photography to tell stories. 

How long have you been honing your craft?

I’ve been honing my craft for 4 years now but it wasn’t until 2 years ago after college where I really liberated myself and began finding my own voice within my work. 

What obstacles do you face as a woman or femme identifying person of colour trying to find her place in the creative scene?

I find that as a woman of color  in the creative scene you have to be thrice (yes 3 times) as good. I watched a lot of my male counterparts land roles as photographer, cinematographer, etc before me in a lot of instances and not because they were better than me.  At times I have to be wary of males that come up to me wanting to “work”. I have to make sure that they actually want to work with me and not just think I’m cute. Most of the production settings I’ve worked in have been male dominated leaving me to deal with a lot of male egos. Also being in a relationship makes it hard for my partner to always have to worry about all the guys I’m surrounded by. When I first started I was so uncomfortable being the only female that I soon began to adopt a tomboyish appeal to me just to feel safe. I recently had a shoot with a girl and she told me that I was the first female photographer to take her photo. This says a lot about the creative scene here. Thankfully women in the creative scene are now standing up and sticking with each other so it has made it a lot easier to land gigs and get recognition. I always say that I want an all female crew when I’m shooting because we do powerful things when we come together.

What do you think is needed right now in the art scene, what do you think is missing?

I think what’s needed right now in the art scene is more plugs and diversity. I hate when I go to a networking event and meet all photographers. Like I need to meet the producers, casting directors, set designers and stylists. Not saying that it is non-existent but it’s not as accessible as it should be. If someone doesn’t have a great following, finding all the right people to work or collaborate can be a pain. There needs to be like a speed date event for creatives. They have those already I think but we need more access.

How do you intend to use your art to improve or better the art scene in your community and at large, if at all?

I intend on using my art to show that you don’t have to be so cookie cutter. You dreams and vision are valid and it’s okay to go after them. I want to show other African girls that you don’t have to follow the standard path of medicine or law to be successful despite what your parents may have fed you. I intend on creating new dialogue from my experiences as a first generation American and Black woman. I also want to shed more light on African artists so that the African community at large can began to embrace and support art more. 

What do you want the world to know about you?

I don’t have a lot of friends or family so I really rely on people from my various communities to support me in any way. Also, I want the world to know that I’m not just creating for myself I’m creating for everyone.

@kynakool

http://www.kynauwaeme.com/

Words by Fabiola Ching.

Photography by Harley Narata.

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