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‘Who are we protected by?’: New art exhibition ‘Protecting the Black Woman’ centers Black women’s experiences

The Black Woman’s Affinity Group is hosting a new art exhibition featuring local Black artists through out Black History Month.

The Black Woman’s Affinity Group (BWAG) opened a new art exhibition titled “Protecting the Black Woman” at Madison College’s Truax Campus on Feb. 2, highlighting the experiences of Black women using different mediums. 

The exhibit features primarily local Black woman artists and is intended to showcase the diverse experiences of Black women, according to a statement from the college. 

BWAG President, and Madison College Intersectional Education and Outreach Coordinator Chevon Bowen said she was excited to share the pieces the artists created for the exhibition.

“We have a full gallery of beautiful, varied pieces of art celebrating our theme, and we’re so honored and humbled by this experience,” Bowen said.

This is the second annual exhibit in the Dzigbodi Akyea series, the first being held in 2022 and titled “Honoring the Black Woman.” The series commemorates Akyea, an early member of the affinity group who committed to featuring Black art and artists during Black History Month. Her passing in September 2021 led to the creation of a scholarship and art show in her name to promote art from Black artists.

Alice Traore, one of the artists whose work is showcased, said that to her, the exhibition represents the care and support circles Black women create for themselves. 

“I think that art speaks or expresses things that are really hard to say in words,” Traore said.  “When you go through the exhibit and you see how these artists have expressed bits and pieces of the lives of Black womanhood, it reminds people of the voices that get silenced, the lived experiences that just get discounted and misrepresented.”

“And I think that the exhibit shows we're here and our womanhood also needs protection,” Traore added. 

Traore, who also works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator for the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring, describes herself as a self-taught watercolor artist. This is her second year contributing to the exhibition series, as she decided to come back and work with the Black Woman’s Affinity Group because of the care shown to her by the community at Madison College. 

“The beauty of this show is that the contributing artists are not only Black women, [but] there are some individuals who have Black women in their lives,” Traore said. “It’s paying respect to who we are — not only to ourselves, but to other people.”

Another artist whose work was shown is Desere Mayo, a digital artist from Oregon, Wisconsin. Mayo said she was drawn to the idea of uplifting and supporting the community through her artwork, and coming together as sisters. 

Mayo said she was captivated by the idea of supporting the community through her artwork and providing a support network for Black artists.

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“You see our history, you see our past,” Mayo said. “I wanted to inspire children for the future. I want to be able to show that these pieces are people coming together to build a bridge that the next generation can walk on.”

Mayo said the exhibition shows the resilience of Black women and the importance of commemorating and celebrating them beyond Black History Month.

“I hope that [the exhibition] shows that we are not just here for one month out of the year, but we are here for the whole entire year — every year, every decade, every century,” Mayo said. “We’re not going anywhere and that people need to know that Black women belong here. We do matter.” 

Traore said the exhibition highlights the necessity of creating a space for Black women at a time when many feel vulnerable.

“Who are we protected by?” Traore said. “Who will honor us? Who will listen to us?”

The exhibit is open to the public Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout Black History Month at Madison College.

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