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TKAAM Exhibit Celebrates Day-To-Day Life For Women Of Color

An exhibit that showcases artwork celebrating women of color is on display at The Kansas African American Museum.

The array of creations ranges from oil and acrylic paintings to photography and sculptures. The exhibit, called "Shades of Strength and Beauty," features the work of 16 developing and established artists of color.

Museum curator Paris Cunningham  says her goal with the exhibit is to remind women to relax.

"To kind of survive in the world, I think the term we always say is, 'I'm staying afloat,'" she said. "You know, trying to 'keep afloat' ... goes hand in hand with both our mental health as Black women and with our self-perception and the way we see ourselves and the way we identify ourselves."  

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau admires an oil painting of herself created by artist Verlene Mahomes.

Art as tribute

Veteran artist Verlene Mahomes created life-sized 3D pieces depicting Maya Angelou and Harriet Tubman, as well as a portrait of Wichitan Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the Kansas Senate's only Black female senator.

"I wanted to paint this picture of her for all the service she's given us," Mahomes said.

Pride in Mexican culture was on the mind of artist Jocelyn Lechuga when she painted a portrait of Latin pop icon Thalia.

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Artist Jocelyn Lechuga explains her artwork to visitors.

"The piece shows her turned, looking over her shoulder, and smiling," Lechuga said. In the background are lyrics of one of Thalia's songs called "Amor a la Mexicana."

Originally from California, Lechuga says Mexican art gets a lot of exposure out west. Although she has only been living in Wichita for a year, she wanted to showcase her culture, as well as empower the Mexican children of the Midwest to create things.

Therapy with a brushstroke  

High schooler Kennedy Hope is a young artist with pieces in the exhibit. Her artwork focused on natural hair.

"There are a lot of people who struggle with hair and it's a good reminder for Black women and Black girls everywhere to know that they are beautiful," Kennedy said.

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Artist Kennedy Hope's work includes the top piece called "Butterflies."

A piece called "Butterflies" depicts a black afro with glitter and some pop-out butterflies.

"It's like Mother Nature natural because it's her natural hair and texture and also the color of the galaxy because it's like her whole world," Kennedy said of the piece. "I try to put my own hair texture into my own pieces, so the volume of that really reflects on mine as well."

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Artist Kaylee Hope is asked by Christopher McDowell to explain her piece.

Her younger sister, Kaylee Hope, says her drawings helped her interpret her feelings. She says a piece with a Black woman wearing a mask with a big X on it was made during a time where she felt silenced.

"I started out sketching and it really helped me control like my emotions that I had," Kaylee says. "I was able to take it from being stuff like angry and upset to better things."

Krystal Bradley chose photography for her medium. Her photos feature a dark-skinned model named Bettye Amend. In one photo, the model is facing the camera with her eyes closed. In another, she is facing away.

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Artist Krystal Bradley says her work of three photos was a way of highlighting a dark-skinned model named Bettye Amend.

"It's really about how we think about the beauty and the strength of Black women," Bradley says. "People are continuing to support the Black Lives Matters movement and My Black is Beautiful and other things like that, and I just wanted to make it to be like an everyday thing where we respect people every day."

Museum curator Paris Cunningham is proud of the exhibit she curated.

"I think it’s just wonderful just to kind of take a break from everything that's going on outside," she said, "to experience something beautiful, something soft, something kind and also something very thoughtful from local artists."

"Shades of Strength and Beauty" runs through Saturday, Sept. 5, at The Kansas African American Museum.

Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.