black history month

6 Black Female Artists Tell Their Story in Dallas Exhibit

Women share profound personal experiences in their work

NBCUniversal, Inc.

{Neighborhood} sits in the design district of Dallas. There's a cool vibe to a store that mainly sells furniture and in February showcases history, too, in an art exhibit called Tellin' Our Own Story.

"We felt having an all-female show was really important, to show a voice that needs to be heard more often in the art world," said owner John Hossley.

The voices of six Black women come through boldly in paint, fiber, illustrations, even hair — personal and profound.

"It was an idea, these female artists wanting to tell their own story about who they are," Hossley said.

"We're all pushing boundaries," said artist Molly Sydnor who was the first to jump into the project with Hossley with her concept focused on self-exploration.

"Imposters is a series about my biracial identity and how I'm actually Black even though I don't necessarily appear Black and the confusion that has gone into my identity and growing up and even as a 27-year-old, how it's kind of affected how I see myself," Sydnor said.

The voices of six Black women are coming together in a profound art exhibit on display through this weekend in Dallas.

"It's 100% Abi Salami in every single piece that you see," said Abi Salami, a self-taught artist who left the business world three years ago to pursue art.

The Nigerian American artist bares her soul in paintings that explore mental health, her own and others.

"My art is very authentic to me because I am a Black woman, and I suffer from bipolar disorder," she said. "My art is my advocacy for making sure that black women feel like it's normal to go seek help, to seek self-love, and just to appreciate and love themselves and have good self-esteem."

Niki Dionne is another self-taught artist. "I think my art journey has been not one that's traditional. I didn't go to school for art. I just kinda found a love for it through exploration and here I am today. I never thought I'd be here," she said

Dionne connects fiber and illustration to tell a story, often times her own story.

"While I typically illustrate with oil pastels, I decided to knit Black women. So it's actually forming a figure of a black woman using knit pieces and then combining them together to show there are different manifestations of ourselves," Dionne said.

"There's so many different stories to tell," said Ari Brielle, a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Texas at Arlington.

In her portraits, Brielle features the Black femme body with brightness and beauty that contrasts the contemporary issues she explores.

"Those pieces that are at the show are sort of like altarpieces that I made because I was thinking about all of the vigils I've been to for Black people who've lost their lives to police brutality," she explained.

"I would think the story I'm telling is more of this idea to listen," said Sam Lao, a multi-disciplinary artist who recently discovered she liked tufting. Her characters are muses bringing her a message.

"I like to have a plan and sometimes that makes me not move forward on ideas that I have. So having these characters is just like a reminder to give it a try. Just go, just listen sometimes and see what you can come up with," she said.

"I just started painting about five years ago," said Desiree Vaniecia, a Dallas ISD arts teacher. She was pregnant with a baby boy and thinking about making him proud when she turned to painting.

Her clearly definable style pays homage to the women in her life and building legacies.

"I feel like a lot of times it gets lost that legacies are still being built. People always think of legacies as the past, like I have a family legacy to uphold. When in truth, I have a family legacy to create," she said.

In bringing together these six artists, {Neighborhood} gave the women the space to tell their own stories. Their work today could be the history we talk about tomorrow.

"I'm really hoping it can land with a few people, a few people like me who don't know where they belong, especially in Black history, where they belong," Sydnor said.

"I hope that my work and what I do, even if I'm not remembered by many, still reaches someone that will be," Lao said.

"I'm okay with rooting on other people, and I think that is also making history because at the end of the day, somebody great needs somebody to help behind them and that's where I also like to be," Vaniecia said.

"I wanted to get across that Black women, they are not a monolith. We're many things. We have many different interests. Many different paths we explore and yet, we're all connected through our different stories," Dionne said.

"We're gonna look back and say, Abi Salami was creating art about something that is very contemporary," Salami said. "2020 was a crazy year. A lot of people dealt with a lot of mental stress. If you did not have a mental illness before 2020, you probably have a little bit of one right now."

"I just hope that the work I'm doing now and hope to do in the future will offer another piece of the puzzle that is our vast experience as Black people," Brielle said. "I hope that when Black women specifically go to see the work that they feel seen and that it's relatable in a way."

The Tellin' Our Own Story exhibit closes this weekend. The public is invited to {Neighborhood}, 2532 Converse Street, on Friday and Saturday to see the artwork in a socially distant setting. Masks are required. And capacity may be limited.

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