Women Who Read Are Dangerous!

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(left to right: Dr. Shamika Mitchell, Natalie N. Caro, Laura Alvarez, Carli Braithwaite and Lorraine Currelley) Saturday March 4, 2017

I had the pleasure of participating as a panelist for Women Who Read Are Dangerous by Stepfan Bollmann. The book focuses on artist’s fascination and interest with women who read.  What is it about women reading that has captivated hundreds of artists over the centuries? Stefan Bollman’s Women Who Read Are Dangerous explores this popular subject in more than sixty artworks-drawings, paintings, photographs, and prints-by iconic artists such as Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, Suzanne Valadon, and more. We expanded the framework to include sex, race, class, and gender within a historical context. I was joined on the panel by my fellow panelists Natalie N. Caro, Dr. Shamika Mitchell, Carli Braithwaite and our host and curator Laura Alvarez.

Dr. Shamika Mitchell stated during the discussion that women were allowed to read within strict social constructs, and gained access via the Bible. Historically reading women were wealthy, books were expensive and only the wealthy could afford to purchase them. Carli Braithwaite gave a Powerpoint presentation based on Stefan Bollmann’s book prior to the start of the discussion and referenced how these women showed up throughout history.

Who are these dangerous women? Dangerous women are relatives, friends, colleagues, partners, etc. They’re women who dared and dare to challenge the status quo. Women who with threat to life and limb spoke out and speak out against injustices. Women who were and are yesterday’s and today’s pioneers and warriors. Women who refused and refuse to keep silent, knowing  their silence and our silence would not and will not protect them nor us.

Powerful moments included panelists and our host Laura Alvarez sharing personal stories. Stories centered on generational struggles to realize dreams and goals. Our common thread, the similarities that shaped and grew us.  We have successfully created paths for ourselves becoming role models for women and girls. We are duty bound and stand on shoulders of those who sacrificed for us. Everyone stressed the importance of having strong support systems and being one.

My presentation was centered on bringing my female ancestors into the room. This discussion could not happen without their represented voices. Living in critical times demand our courage. We are called to take advantage of all opportunities to share information, and speak truth. This is how we heal, This is how we grow. This is how we breathe. This is how we strategize for coping in a society that threatens to crush us, when speaking truth to power. During the discussion I pointed out enslaved Africans were not given access to books, not even the Bible. Enslaved Africans were maimed or murdered if caught reading.

Here are some names of powerful and brilliant African American women artists. Women creative’s who used and use their art in protest. Names many will not recognize nor their contributions to the struggle for equality and liberation.

I speak the names of dangerous women:

Sculptor Betye Saar challenged historically negative stereotypes of African Americans. She began working in assemblage in the late 1960s. She
uses the medium to express heritage. In 1972 she created The Liberation of
Aunt Jemima. It addressed race and gender by subverting a racial stereotype and turning it into empowerment.

Printmaker & Sculptor Elizabeth Carlett, “I’m not thinking about doing things new and different. I’m thinking about creating art for my people.” She’s known for fighting racial equality in the arts and her expressionist portrayals of Black culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Her famous Sharecropper, created in Mexico shows Catlett’s activism for African-Americans and females in the South.

Sculptor Augusta Savage, began sculpting at a young age, using her red clay soil from her Florida backyard. She attended Cooper Union in the early 1920s and was commissioned to make a bust of W.E.B. Du Bois for the
Harlem Library.  A key artist in the Harlem Renaissance, Savage was important for fighting both racial and sexual prejudice throughout her career, becoming a social activist and encouraging the work of others while nurturing her own  career in the
US and Europe. One of the most famous works, Gamin (French for “street urchin”), depicts what may be her nephew Ellis Ford or a homeless boy.

Conceptual Artist Adrian Piper has studied art and taught philosophy at
renowned institutions across the globe. Piper was a trailblazer in introducing the concepts of gender and race into a feminist art movement
and has integrated drawing, street performances, and costumes into her art. Her 1981 drawing Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features has a
permanent home in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the
Brooklyn Museum.

19th Century Antislavery Women
Journalist/Anti Lynching Activist , Ida B. Wells
Charlotte Forten (1784-1884)
Margaretta Forten
Harriet Forten
Sarah Louise Forten
Angelina Grimke
Educator, Sarah M. Douglas

20th Century Dangerous Women
Fannie Lou Hamer
Poet/Author/Activist, Audre Lorde
Author/Activist/Quilter/Mother/Publisher/Editor, Cheryl Hudson Willis
Poet/Author/Nurse-Healer, Nella Larsen

I speak the name of the woman who birthed me
and gave me all.

Mother/Writer/Dancer/Activist/Community Leader, Annie Daniels Currelley

I speak the names of women who influenced me.

Godmother/Community Activist, Beulah Gardner
Nurse/Journalist/Activist/Educator, Alma John
Godmother/Community Activist, Lorrayne Younger
/Community Activist/Educator, B. Taylor
Mother/Community Activist, Helen Currelley
Historian/Author, Paula Giddings

I’m honored to be one of these dangerous women along with my fellow panelists. A
panel of women who understand we have nothing to lose but our chains!

Our audience contributions of shared experiences and questions enhanced the overall discussion. We were enriched by their added voices. Thanks, Laura Alvarez and the NYC Department of Parks and St. James Recreation Center. Thanks, to my fellow panelists
for sharing their experiences and insights.

©Lorraine Currelley 2017. All Rights Reserved.