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Art tells tales of Black womanhood: ‘Her Words to Life: A Celebration of Black Women’s Voices’ is at Terrain through Oct. 30

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 8, 2021

Arts organization Terrain kicked off an exhibit last Friday that continues through Oct. 30. Random music played, some unknown, cloudy 1950s rock. It felt off. Then some Nina Simone started.

“I always go to Nina when I work, but I’m not too familiar with this song,” said Tracy Poindexter-Canton, one of the two artists featured in the exhibition. “I was just going to put Chaka Khan on or something.”

Simone, a deep alto, conveyed Black struggle as if it was the only thing her genius embodied. Khan’s voice carries a vibrancy, a glow reminiscent of 1980s brightness. The range in which Black women present their brilliance is soaked within our lineage, our mothers magnificent gift-givers.

With the help of Black artist Carl Richardson, Poindexter-Canton and Shantell Jackson displayed their interpretations of current and past iterations of Black womanhood in their joint exhibition “Her Words to Life: A Celebration of Black Women’s Voices.”

Poindexter-Canton is Spokane’s Black history personified. She is a descendant of the Burnettes, one of the largest families to migrate from Texas and settle into Spokane. Her husband, Quintin Canton, is a descendant of the Bernsteins, another family with early roots in Spokane in the early 1900s.

Poindexter-Canton is a lover of layers, a multimedia artist who makes you question what was used, then leaves you in awe. In her piece “First Chair,” there’s tissue paper for texture, facial features cut from pretty women posing in magazines and beads to texturize Black hair types.

“I love to do beads with Black hair just to show and amplify the beauty of it. That’s my intent, and everything I do, I use every kind of different material that I can,” Poindexter-Canton said. “Shout out to the Shadle Park Dollar Store because I go in there and go nuts.”

Jackson is an East Coast lesbian, a sneakerhead from Buffalo, New York, an Aquarius who wore Jordan Bred 11s while discussing her minimalist approach. “Circles” features three black dots, a representation of Black women enjoying themselves together.

“It’s a (Audre Lorde) poem that goes with it, and it’s about Black women sitting in circles and the process of us laughing when we have that space,” Jackson said. “How free we are together.”

Another piece, “Focused,” uses reflective paint in her interpretation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” creating a “metaphor of an eye looking back at you,” to accept ethnocentric beauty standards forced onto Black women. Jackson is an artist-in-residence at the Hive, where she created the exhibition’s pieces.

“It’s been a space to pull out a roll of canvas and say, ‘Alright, we’re going for it, and we’re going to make a mess with paint drips!’ ” Jackson said. “I literally sat with my (“The Color Purple”) piece and asked it, ‘What we talking? What we doing? What are we trying to convey?’ But also, not trying to be too deep and critical. Part of my process is processing and letting it be what it is.”

On the right wall, Poindexter-Canton and Jackson’s works speak to each other the loudest. It is their take on “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s debut and prolific work that incorporates prose and performance.

Shange curates the “choreopoems” as both playwright and poet, giving life, movement and depth to the characters who are represented by the seven colors of the rainbow as nameless Black women. Poindexter-Canton’s take on the project is of rest and contentment. The poem “a laying on of hands” reads:

“i fell into a numbness / til the only tree i cd see / took me up in her branches

held me in her breeze / made me dawn dew / that chill at daybreak

the sun wrapped me up swingin rose light everywhere / the sky laid over me like a million men

i waz cold / i waz burnin up / a child / & endlessly weavin garments for the moon

wit my tears / i found god in myself / & i loved her / i loved her fiercely”

“Lady in Red” is a brown-skinned woman laying amongst a tree, her face displaying satisfaction as she rests. The other six colors, women, are the backdrop, serving as a warm embrace wrapped around “Lady in Red.”

“I wanted her to project a feeling of serenity, a feeling of ‘finally, I went through all of this struggle, and I was about to give up, but I finally found this place,’ ” Poindexter-Canton said.

Jackson’s “Legacy” is painted with cool tones, “Redacted” with warmer colors with “Lady in Red” in the middle. The display represents the conversation between artwork and artist, Poindexter-Canton and Jackson. Sometimes, conversations are a look or noise, or even just existence. Each wave of communication connects us to the legacies our matriarchs have left, a link to our past and present.

“It’s reflecting into many layers that you can’t see about my grandmother and what she meant to me,” Jackson said of “Legacy.” “What were her words I took? Then I asked, ‘What is her legacy? Am I her legacy? Am I it?’ Then I blacked out and said, ‘I am because I am, and I’m going to be someone’s legacy, but that’s Black women.’ ”

The altars in the exhibition are a tearful dedication. Along with Poindexter-Canton and Jackson’s existences, the altars represent who has rooted them in their Black womanhood and artistic paths. Jackson pays homage to her maternal grandmother, Grandmama, and her family friend of a grandma, Mama.

Mama migrated from Alabama during the steel boom in the 1900s. Jackson remembers Mama as a “fancy jewelry lady.”

“I would go into her room as a kid and be like, ‘Mama! I wanna go probing.’ She’d say, ‘Girl, don’t come in here probing through my stuff!’ ” Jackson said. “As a kid? That was the coolest thing when I just ventured through them. These pieces are for people to have those experiences, but it is that experience, that question of ‘What’s in the box?! What do she got in here?!’ ”

Poindexter-Canton had two altars, one for her grandmothers Big Mom and Grandma Alma, the other, a tribute to two women named Patsy. One was her aunt, the other was her godmother who went by “Pattee” instead. On the altar, Poindexter-Canton set out a deck of cards, childhood pictures, peppermint tea for two, crystals for love and protection, lit candles and African love stones.

“This (altar) is my way of saying ‘Hey grandmothers, I’m putting things out for you when you come to visit us. I honor you. I see you. I won’t forget about you. And I’m trying to learn from you,’ ” she said.

Not only is the exhibit artistic and genius, it is emotional. Not only is it emotional, it is the truth. Any experience of womanhood is littered with misogynistic ideologies, but, for Black women, oppression intersects with race. This is without mentioning other marginalized groups such as the poor, LGBTQ+, disabled, nonbinary, trans and Black women.

But, after all, the wretchedness of oppression and its artistic, literary depictions are honest. All Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, the artists interpreted in the exhibit, even Chaka Khan and Nina Simone, all they did was capture Black womanhood in its most authentic form. Poindexter-Canton and Jackson are just following suit.

“I feel like it’s just who I am and what I know from living,” Poindexter-Canton said. “I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve. I never felt ashamed or never not wanted to be a Black woman.”

Ginger Ewing, Terrain’s executive director and cofounder, found the exhibit “meaningful and passionate.”

“The fact that they’re choosing to acknowledge the woman who has molded them into who they are today, and also Black women coming together to create something incredibly beautiful and meaningful together? While uplifting Black women? It’s really uplifting to me,” Ewing said.

By the night’s end, Black soul singer Jill Scott’s song “jahraymecofasola” was playing, a song about celebrating life with those before us in mind.

“People look up at me and wooouuuuh they think that I’m a star / But it’s all because the love you give to me it made me who I are.”

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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