In 2020, Asha White began a series of abstract paintings called “Moody Monday.” The artworks reflected her mental health and mood as the turbulent events of the year unfolded — including the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine and a national reckoning with racial injustice. Over the course of 16 weeks, White (whose professional moniker is “Asha the Artist”) expressed feelings of depression and anxiety on the canvas. Two years later, she’s debuting an exhibit at Cincinnati Art Museum that expands on the series.
White’s exhibit takes the core of “Moody Monday” into the Cincinnati community. Titled “Mood Altering,” the exhibit includes firsthand accounts of 50 Cincinnatians who she interviewed in the Black community. Conversations explored their experiences with racism, access to mental healthcare, historical trauma and stigmas around mental health. The exhibit incorporates their accounts through photography, interview audio and abstract paintings made by White and interviewees.
White’s exhibit is part of “Truth & Inspiration, An ArtsWave Showcase,” which celebrates the work of local artists who received funding from ArtsWave’s Black and Brown Artist Program. Established in 2020, the Black and Brown Artist Program supports BIPOC artists in the Cincinnati region who reflect contemporary themes within their work. It represents the first time ArtsWave — a major funder for local arts organizations and nonprofits in the area — has invested in individual artists. In 2021, 27 artists received grants to create work that embodied the theme of truth and reconciliation.
Janice Liebenberg, Vice President of Equitable Arts Advancement at ArtsWave, says the inaugural project series provided an opportunity to “meet the moment” for artists and audiences. She says, “The projects that came out of 2021 were so thoughtful. There was truth and anger, but it was thoughtful. Some of the artists were able to convey a path towards reconciliation. It was a beautiful process.”
This year, 22 BIPOC artists received individual grants through ArtsWave’s Black and Brown Artist Program to create work that again embodies the theme of truth and reconciliation.
Says Liebenberg, “The art projects this time around are just so inspirational. It inspires you to act, to participate, to be part of the solution.”
Staying current and contemporary, White engages the topic of critical race theory in schools in “Mood Altering.” It’s a topic on the minds of communities around the U.S., including Cincinnati. In June, the Forest Hills School District in Anderson passed a “culture of kindness resolution,” which bans teachers from giving assignments that prompt students to consider their race, socioeconomic class, gender identity, religion or sexuality. Last November, voters in the Lakota Local Schools, Lebanon City Schools, and Milford school districts also elected candidates who campaigned against many of the ideas and components of critical race theory.
“Here we are two years after the tragic loss of George Floyd, and not much has changed. In fact, in ways, I fear things have grown worse,” White says. “We cannot overcome racism as a country or its impact on mental health if we don’t acknowledge our dark past.”
Also part of “Truth & Inspiration, An ArtsWave Showcase” is Kailah Ware’s “Story Share.” Like White, Ware’s exhibit focuses on the importance of personal stories and experiences, especially within the Black community. The exhibit features an interactive video booth in which people are invited to both hear and tell their stories about social justice.
“We really hope for it to be an intimate experience with the user being able to grab more authentic stories so that people can have their time alone and share on different topics,” says Ware.
Most specifically, Ware’s “Story Share” focuses on the topics of prison reform and the impacts that over-policing makes on communities. It considers the way families are influenced by over-policing, reveals the disproportionate statistics of inmates who are imprisoned on death row, and explores how the school-to-prison pipeline affects social interactions, emotional awareness, and educational potential for Black children. It also questions how and why Black children, in school, are not widely taught about their heritage in a way that elicits pride. One of the prompts in the video booth asks, “If you can imagine a world, what does that world look like when we actually experience justice?”
Ware says “Story Share” is a component of a short documentary film in the works, which more closely hones in on prison reform and over-policing. People will be able to preview a trailer at the showcase, and responses from the video booth will be incorporated into the final documentary.
“Mood Altering” will be open at Cincinnati Art Museum from July 15 to Aug. 14, and viewers will be able to access the exhibit virtually at ashatheartist.com. “Story Share” will be on display at Cincinnati Art Museum on July 16. The complete “Truth & Inspiration, An ArtsWave Showcase” exhibition, which includes seven more works by local artists, is open to the public from July 14 to Aug. 14 at Cincinnati Art Museum. Admission is free. More info: cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
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