‘Black women in art’: 2 installations at the Delaware Art Museum tackle underrepresentation

“There Is a Woman in Every Color” aims to celebrate womanhood and the contributions of Black women to the world of art.

Listen 1:35
Elizabeth Humphrey's installation,

The highlighted photograph within Shakira Hunt's installation, "Give Me My Flowers — Soft Pedals," embodies the essence of womanhood. (Courtesy of the Delaware Art Museum)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

Black women like Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman have rightfully earned their places in classrooms, books and cultural discussion. Yet it’s important to recognize that their contributions are part of a broader tapestry; countless other historic figures have also left lasting legacies.

For that reason, to celebrate both Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, the Delaware Art Museum is showcasing a couple of installations featuring well-known African American leaders, all created by Black women artists, and illustrating the essence of womanhood.

Curated by Elizabeth Humphrey, “There Is a Woman in Every Color: Black Women in Art”’ draws inspiration from artist Elizabeth Catlett’s work, offering a unique perspective on Black womanhood.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Specializing in the early 1900s, the curator explains the underrepresentation of Black and brown individuals, fostering a sense of disconnect.

“My interest in this project actually kind of began from my experiences of feeling like an outsider in museums and art classes I took and the difficulty I found in finding my community stories,” she said. “I started speaking with students who felt unwelcome in museum spaces because they didn’t see themselves on the wall.”

Humphrey curated the collection after being inspired by a deficiency in Black visibility.

“When I was conducting research, less than 1% [of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art] was focused on or included Black women representation,” she said. “It is something to consider, but that kind of gap or imbalance is not unique to the museum. It is an issue that a lot of mainstream public institutions are having to reckon with.”

Highlighting the representation of Black women across two centuries, this exhibition illuminates their significant role in shaping American art history. In the collection of 60 pieces, a standout work by Faith Ringgold captures the unity of influential figures such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker and Ida B. Wells.

“Some of these people exist in the 19th century, others are alive in the 20th, and they’re standing together, but not in a chronological order, either,” Humphrey said. “It testifies to the community of Black women and the contributions of Black women across time. Quilting in itself is a practice that is traditionally considered a female art or female craft. In Ringgold’s work, she’s really elevating this practice of quilting, especially by centering the collective, the community.”

She stresses the importance of showcasing these artworks universally, as they encapsulate “everyone’s legacy.”

“These issues of identity, injustice, celebration and reckoning extend well beyond just Blackness,” she said. “This is an opportunity to place Black women artists in conversation with each other. The works represented and the artist represented span several generations in terms of their art practices.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Adding to the exhibition, Shakira Hunt, a native of Wilmington, contributes her installation “Give Me My Flowers — Soft Pedals,” offering a compelling exploration of womanhood and the concept of the mother wound.

She expands on her ongoing series in response to the primary picture by Ringgold, describing it as both a tribute and a call to honor all women by acknowledging their contributions.

“Even the image that is the primary image for the show, ‘There Is a Woman in Every Color,’ it’s like a group of women gathered around this quilt and this field of sunflowers. That makes me think of my series ‘Give My Flowers,’ because it’s like, what better way to honor someone than to give them their flowers,” she said. “It feels like one big celebration of honoring ourselves and honoring each other.”

"The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles" by Faith Ringgold
“The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” by Faith Ringgold takes center stage in Elizabeth Humphrey’s installation. (Courtesy of the Delaware Art Museum)

In “Give Me My Flowers,” Hunt decided to personalize her project by showcasing important figures from her own life. Through this intimate lens, she aims to explore the concept of womanhood and delve into the various dimensions of women’s experiences and challenges.

“Womanhood really feels like, in a serial space, every evolving and blossoming and shedding, and it literally feels like we get to bloom at the time that we feel like we need to bloom, and also the times that we may not feel like we are blooming, we’re still always a work in progress,” she explained.

Central to her collection is an image of four women from different generations, symbolizing the diverse facets of womanhood. Surrounded by nature and flowers, it emphasizes the significance of honoring women’s struggles and contributions.

“Flowers have always been an integral part of the series,” Hunt noted. “Physically, but metaphorically, too. The idea for me was rooted in being able to honor oneself and also honor the folks that we love the most.”

The exhibition will run through May 26 at the Delaware Art Museum.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal