Femininity and Identity: An Artist Profile
As economic inequality, the rise of the alt-right, and videos depicting police brutality toward unarmed black men swell in our collective consciousness and permeate our social media feeds, artists are responding in increasingly thought-provoking ways.
Acrylic painter Ari Brielle recently graduated from UNT, where she studied art and design. Her paintings primarily feature young women of color. The colors (light greens, pinks, and warm yellows) are chosen for their universal beauty. The backdrops often depict plants and trees, a reference to the close relationship Africans had with nature before enduring centuries of bondage in this country. The female subjects engage the viewer from many angles. Some look at you. Others gaze through you. All inhabit a world that is waiting to burst into life.
“I’ve always been interested in painting and drawing, especially women,” Brielle said. “Being a women of color today is political just in itself. A lot of times, I work with how we decorate ourselves. These things are often looked down upon — braids with dreads. A lot of times, our identities are appropriated. We’re beautiful too. My works explore our identity, humanizing it in a way.”
Brielle’s primary following, not surprisingly, consists of young women. Young women of color, she said, are particularly absent from the subject matter of contemporary art shows.
College was a transformative time for Brielle. Not only did she hone her skills as a painter, she began reconciling her thoughts on race relations in America. The shooting of Michael Brown was particularly impactful, she recalled. Her first attempts to convey her emotions came off raw and unbridled. One college creation depicted a black girl with a target on her head. Established artists like Liliana Bloch encouraged Brielle to dig deeper and find a message that was more nuanced. Something softer.
The message on the splash page of Brielle’s website reflects her new focus: exploring black femininity, identity, and softness.
Brielle has shown works at Janette Kennedy Gallery and Fort Works Art recently. Part of the power of her art, and of other socially conscious creatives, is that the images persist. And they often beg questions.
“At this point, I’m sort of hopeless” about the state of race relations in this country, she said. “I don’t see it getting better over the next few years. Every single day, there’s a story about someone in the margins being oppressed or abused. I think those mindsets are so ingrained in people. I think it’s been good for disabled, queer, and colored people because we have our own space and our own voices now. That’s really beautiful and empowering.”
You can view and purchase Brielle’s works through the Tanglewood Moms/Madeworthy Marketplace. This article is one in a series of artist profiles made possible through a partnership between Tanglewood Moms and the artist-led nonprofit, Art Tooth.
Edward Brown is a writing tutor and piano teacher. He is also an award-winning writer for the Fort Worth Weekly and volunteers for numerous Fort Worth nonprofits.