Bevelyn Afor Ukah describes her exhibit of bold, expressive paintings as “a journey to find myself present in my own body, with all of the complex stories floating around about who is worthy, who is beautiful, who is valuable, and who is not.” The mixed-media artist states that “Fat and Black phobia continue to stew in our society, while Black women’s bodies are constantly berated and violated by a dominant, yet elusive gaze.”
Stories and parables passed down through generations of African American and Nigerian ancestors are cited as particular inspirations by Ukah, who says that Black women have “blazed beautiful pathways of expression, while reminding me that I do not need permission to be who I am.”
Reflections on the life of Saartjie Baartman also inspired many works in the exhibit. Baartman was born in South Africa in the late 1700s and, as a young woman, was sold into slavery and subjected to cruel public display in Europe, alongside exotic animals, by a man who made money from the public’s perverse fascination with her body.
“I’ve always been interested in finding entry points of understanding African identity without having to look through a Westernized lens,” Ukah tells Asheville Made. “The story of Saartjie Baartman stuck with me, as it speaks so poignantly on the violence that can stem from standards of power, beauty, and value. Recognizing that Saartjie Baartman must have been so much more than the perceptions that enslaved her … gives me hope that we can honor our bodies in profoundly creative ways.”
The artist further states, “My goal is to practice flipping violent narratives and acknowledge the magic that lives within our ecological selves. In my belief, with a bit of collaboration with our ancestors, we have everything that we need to create our own liberation. With that, we require healing, we require rest, we require acknowledgement, and, importantly, we require love.
Exhibition runs September 30-October 30. Reception: Saturday, Oct. 22, 7pm; artist’s talk at 8pm. Pink Dog Creative, 348 Depot St., River Arts District. pinkdog-creative.com.