Crowns, box braids, and representations of Black love adorn an eye-catching yellow-based canvas displayed on the staircase in Humboldt State’s Art B building, a creative piece by art studio student Ashlyn Gardenhire.
“I basically decided to take different time periods or moments that symbolize a Black person, what it is to be Black, or Black culture, and I made a collage out of it,” Gardenhire said. “There’s not enough Black art in the art department nor Black artists, and we don’t learn about any in the department.”
“I basically decided to take different time periods or moments that symbolize a Black person, what it is to be Black, or Black culture, and I made a collage out of it,”
A lack of multicultural representation in the department doesn’t keep the art student from finding inspiration of her own. She finds much of her inspiration from contemporary artist Kerry Marshall’s style and concepts.
“He is a Black artist and what he does is capture moments of a Black person’s everyday life,” Gardenhire said. “The thing I did take from him is using a lot of colors.”
Gardenhire includes “Black Lives Matter” and “End Police Terror” on the painting, along with “Justice for Josiah” and representations of Black women and girls on her painting.
“I put that Black Lives Matter not only because of the history behind the movement and everything, but I want people to realize that Black art exists,” Gardenhire said. “It matters just as much as Picasso and all the other white people that we talk about in every art class.”
Gardenhire, 22, has been passionate about drawing since she was in fifth grade, but got into painting during her sophomore year at Humboldt State. Since joining the art department, she has faced some pushback for her choices of expression.
“I’ve had people tell me to lighten the people in my paintings. Whether you’re Black or not, we all come in different shades,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not going to stick to just one but for now, this is what I’m doing. This is what I want to present.”
The concepts that Gardenhire gets creative with don’t tend to sit well with fellow students and faculty, which has a major lack of representation for people of color, let alone students to create it.
“I wish I had my own personal studio because it’s so peaceful once you get to painting,” Gardenhire said. “You’re expressing however you want. The challenge is having a predominantly white institution’s students tell you that they can’t relate to your painting.”
The painting has been on the wall since the fall semester of 2017, after Gardenhire completed it as an assignment for a class. To her surprise, the decision to display the piece was made by her instructor.
“I don’t know what about this canvas finally made a professor in the art department be like, ‘I want to hang this up,’ but I’m glad it did,” Gardenhire said. “I hope this is an improvement and a change for this whole art department.”
Gardenhire is conscious to celebrate Black womanhood and deliberately included different females on the painting. “Females, uphold yourself,” Gardenhire said. “Have standards and know that you are worthy. Period.”