As February is Black History Month, it is important to remember the influential women who have inspired as well as created a space for Black women to exist and be recognized.
As a queer, Black, female artist, Mickalene Thomas gravitated towards collage for her artist expression, which allowed her the freedom of expressing sexuality, gender, and race. Thomas’s art focuses on paintings, time-based media, and silkscreen works, all featuring Black women. Femmes Noires provides a meditation on the politics of resistance while seamlessly merging her biography with the broader contemporary concerns around the cultural representation of Black women. In this way, her aim is to “present the beauty of the Black body” through cultural references to Black women both current and from the 1970’s and '80’s that she would have recognized growing up. Mickalene Thomas puts Black women at the centre of her artistic focus, saying “to do the work that I do, I am asking of and looking to my sisters of the world.” Through her art, Thomas attends to the notion that the strong Black woman is in itself a burden that demands an unmovable stoicism from those very Black women who aim to elevate their cultural status. In her portraits, Thomas works to evoke both a sense of self-assurance and vulnerability to properly represent the fragmentation of shifting identities within current cultural appropriation.
Rebecca Fisseha explores what it means to be a Black woman within an Ethiopian context. Her novel, Daughters of Silence, follows the story of Dessie, a young Ethiopian woman who is forced to return to Ethiopia after a volcano’s eruption forces the plane she works on to land there. Dessie must stay with her maternal grandfather, Bape, while he and his family mourn the death of Dessie’s mother, Ema. As Dessie reacquaints herself with her grandfather's house, familiar yet strangely alien to her diasporic sensibilities, she pieces together the family secrets: the trauma of dictatorship and civil war, the shame of unwed motherhood, and the abuse met with silence that gives shape to the mystery of her mother's life.
Thomas’s and Fisseha’s works explore what it means to be a Black woman within the constraints of today’s society. While Mickalene Thomas uses '70’s and '80’s art to create her interpretation of what it means to be a Black woman and the artistic space available for Black women to express themselves, Fisseha’s novel works to uncover the secrets and the cultural expectations which weigh down the character of Dessie. The different pressures which create the atmosphere under which both of these artists work in allows for the depictions of strong, confident, and powerful Black women found in the fiction of Fisseha and the artistic creations of Thomas.