I‘m Black, I’m a woman, and I’m an artist and cultural worker living in Chicago. In Chicago’s arts and Black cultural legacy, there’s a long line of Black women who not only paved the way, but gave way to Black institutions, Black literary developments, and Black Arts movements. I’m profoundly indebted to these women who basically did the damn things that needed to be done.
I remember being a bright eyed, curious, and eager eighteen year old in college, ready to learn as much as I could about Chicago’s Black art history. I was guided toward doing a deep dive on Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs, who helped found two Black institutions here in Chicago–The South Side Community Art Center in 1940, and DuSable Museum of African American History in 1961. I had never heard of Dr. Burroughs at the time, but I felt affirmed in deciding to become both an artist and an arts worker.
My decision was tied to a history of Black women at the helm of arts and cultural work, which made me feel without question that I was doing the right thing. Naturally I began to learn more about Black women outside of Burroughs who have made an impact on our art and cultural legacy here in Chicago and beyond. Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry (beyond A Raisin in the Sun), Barbara Jones-Hogu, Beryl Wright, Madeline Murphy Rabb, and Elizabeth Catlett are several of these women.
There are Black women today who are not only maintaining, challenging, and leading in this legacy, but creating new pathways on their own terms. As I created portraits with the women here, I’m aware that none of us are without the guidance and accountability of this history, and of the women who led us here.