FEATURE: Art Hoe Collective celebrates writer Helen Oyeyemi & favorite new art pieces for Women’s History Month

March 30, 2016

“I sometimes get asked: “How come the men in your stories don’t have such strong characters?” And I’m like: “I don’t care.” I just want to find out about all the different lives a woman can live” – Helen Oyeyemi

As International Women’s Month comes to a close, the struggle as an African American woman to find yourself represented in art and literature in a way that doesn’t cater to the age old tropes remains. It is hard to see ourselves forced into the role of a one dimensional caretaker, maid, slave, or “strong black woman” who is made to suffer for the sake of the plot, I wanted see a character who looked like me fully developed and multidimensional as I saw the women around me, I wanted to see a black woman character as human . I first came across the writings of Helen Oyeyemi by chance, the time when I found her I feel was the right time for me in my life. If I had discovered before, I don’t think I would’ve been able to appreciate the artistry and the way she builds women characters with depth and humanity that’s usually missing within the male dominated writing world. Too often writers avoid exploration of gender and race to keep the character relatable and attempt to preserves the character humanity to the reader. Oyeyemi doesn’t erase those dimensions but showcases them as a part of the whole, not as a trait to be left vulnerable for the often dehumanizing gaze. She doesn’t forget her blackness, her womaness, or humanity, but celebrates them without leaving one behind. She doesn’t want to be celebrated “despite” her womanness and blackness, but be celebrated for it.

By Sandra and Gabby of Art Hoe Collective*, AFROPUNK contributors

Her writings inspired Art Hoe Collective to nominate her as our spotlight writer for Women’s History Month – which also coincides with National Poetry Day – and use her quote to start off our piece. Oyeyemi writes in a fantastic manner but there’s a sense of realness where you can relate to the characters in a way that male authors and white authors often overlook. She takes time with her women characters, you see them gradually grow and experience life and everything that comes with living as a woman of color in this world. She does this seemingly with skill and ease, she is truly the definition of Black Girl Magic.

Women of color artists and writers are significantly overlooked by the literary world but serve a much needed purpose. Sandra Cisneros, Jhumpa Lahiri, Monique Truong and countless others showcase the variations in which women of color express their creativity within the medium. Lahiri creates worlds with her stories detailing the lives of Indian immigrants, and the the struggles of raising a family and holding onto a culture in a country that increasingly pushes you to assimilate with every generation. Sandra Cisneros, whose work shows the inner workings of race and love and how those two intertwine, writes in vivid detail as if an expressionist painter. These authors manifest worlds and stories in a way that only someone who has experienced them and is deeply invested in them could.

Femme artists ranging across a different array of mediums have submitted their work this month relaying their experiences and the multitude of trials and tribulations that they face. The Collective wants to highlight their experiences as femmes, because their work and expression is valid and valuable.

P O E T R Y / W R I T I N G:

Vahni Kurra | 18 | Indian | @vahnikurra | She/Her |
Vashni Kurra, A young Indian poet who illustrates what it’s like being a young immigrant girl and the ways xenophobia and racism intertwines and manifest in everyday life for first and second generation Americans.

Sula Fay Bermudez-Silverman | Afro-Puerto Rican and Jewish | @mamasula | She/Her
Evoking the long standing tradition of marking The Other, Sula Fay Bermudez-SIlverman reclaims this tradition by weaving a family portrait that could be worn as a badge declaring the wearers genetic makeup. Erasing the long standing question that is too often received “what are you?”

Panteha Abareshi | Persian-Jamaican | QWOC | @pantehart
Through vibrant visuals, Panteha Abareshi uses ink and color as a means of expressing what’s it’s like to live with disabilities. All done by hand, she gives you the raw details with every stroke and line.

Lesego Seoketsa | 21 | Johannesburg | (a.k.a @AzaniaForest) | She/Her
Lesego Seoketsa redefines what is beauty with her photo piece that recreates a classic painting that perpetuates the idea of white women as the standard of beauty. She removes the white women from the scenario and paints the features that are valued on a white women and places them on herself, a black woman. Forcing herself to become the new standard of beauty.

(click picture to watch)
Part 1: Learning Korean, 2015
Dana Davenport | African-American and Korean | @dana_dav | She/Her
Dana Davenport is a performance artist who utilizes the korean language in her art to celebrate her Korean heritage and to criticize the antiblackness prevalent in korean culture, and the erasure of her Korean background because it isn’t visually apparent due to her black body. She says “My body serves as representation of my Black heritage.” This piece was paired with another performance in a series that brilliantly illustrated the way her two identities being black and korean interconnect. The second piece was taken down due to the fact that she was nude in the video, despite the fact her breasts and genitalia was never shown and only her nude back was seen. The hypersexualization of black femme bodies even in non sexual settings lended to the controversy that her piece garnered, causing its removal from Instagram. Art Hoe Collective refuses to silence our fellow artists and will do our best to make sure her voice and expression is no longer censored.


(click picture to watch)
Ammo | Dominican | @ammobangbang | She/Her
#donotinCISt (snippet)
full performance

Ammo is a trans woman poet who uses her identity as a topic of discussion with her poetry. With her piece #donotinCISt she criticizes the way that trans women are under constant scrutiny by both their peers and society at large. She refuses to be forced into a gender binary despite the fact people try to force a label upon her.

Best said in her own words:

“I came in coy
Both implies that there are only two
Options, spectrum offers range
I lowkey rage v against M F lies,
Motha Fuckin lies
regurgitated true

Check the box that applies
But, my space defies
So, I clarify:
This exchange is my refinery
to produce the word, succinct,
that will sink into your psyche”

This post is in partnership with the Art Hoe Collective.

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*Sandra’s Instagram
*Gabby’s Instagram