Jessica Spence’s Inspiring Art Pays Respect to Black Hair and Womanhood by Tiffanee E. Thompson
Jessica Spence’s Artwork and Upcoming Exhibition at Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the Bronx Opening Sept 19, 2019
RESPECT | Group exhibition with Timothy Okamura, Jessica Spence, and Nichole Washington
Show Duration: September 19th through November 15, 2019
Opening reception: Thursday, September 19th, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
Collage Workshop: Saturday, September 21st, 3:30pm
All events are free and open to the public
Casita Maria Gallery at 928 Simpson Street 6th floor
Bronx, New York, 10459
Jessica Spence, the New York based Jamaican-American artist, has created a series of images that accurately depicts Black women’s relationship with their hair, Black culture and Black identity. Spence has visually documented the diversity amongst Black women and girls through the symbol that represents their crown and glory, hair.
Jessica Spence, photographed in her studio in the Bronx
Opening on Thursday, September 19th , Spence will be a part of a new group gallery show entitled, RESPECT: Exploration of Black & Afro-Latinx Female Identity, at the Casita Maria Gallery in the Casita Maria Center For Arts & Education in the Bronx. The exhibit and related public programs comprise the fall season of “CelebrARTE,” Casita Maria’s arts and culture event series celebrating the South Bronx community and the art it has inspired. Spence contributes six pieces to the show, including four new works.
Spence’s creative process pulls from her own personal experience and the desire to include models specifically from her community in the Bronx. This series on Black hair and Black culture, currently focuses on women and girls through portrait-like images highlighting their hair styles, energy and creativity.
Jessica Spence’s studio
The imagery of a Black women’s hair, in any state, has often been met with strong opinions, assumptions, critiques and, quite frankly, controversy. The acceptance of Black women and girl’s hair has triggered much debate on professionally, appropriateness, conformity, and levels of Blackness and this topic is ingrained in the subconscious of the Black community from childhood. Spence speaks on this stigma by saying, “Why can’t we [Black women and girls] be comfortable doing whatever we want with our hair without being faced with criticism or unfair attention and judgement?”
Spence’s upcoming exhibition at the Casita Maria Gallery is an artistic statement of these concerns with womanhood, specifically Black womanhood. The complexities of Black hair are deeply rooted for Black women and girls based on both trauma and tradition. Spence tells us that, “As I think about my own experiences with my hair and cultural identity, I wanted to create artwork that showed Black women and girls in a positive light. I choose to create abstract art in the sense that I wanted to not focus on the facial features but to show Black women as everyday people full of beauty and versatility – not some monolith of what others think of us.”
Roller Set, 2019
Largely created using acrylic on canvas, Spence shows us snapshots of ourselves or someone we know with the supreme detail of laid edges, a perfectly dried twist out, the shiny curl flip after a released roller-set or the perfectly paired barrette-to-bobo color combination for the first day of school. Each piece in the series evokes the intimate parts of womanhood, childhood and blackness that deserves to be maintained, celebrated and normalized.
Braids and Barrettes, 2018
Spence’s work has been on display at galleries and events throughout NYC for the past few years. In between exhibitions, her work is constantly being ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ digitally through her growing Instagram account and as a participating artist in Snapchat’s impressive 2019 virtual art gallery titled For Us, By Us: Art Through the Eyes of Black Millennials in celebration of Black History Month. Spence tells us that, “Social media gives me the opportunity to expose my work and message to thousands of people who cannot see my work in person. These platforms are also a great way to reach the younger generation or students who are not exposed to diverse artists in school.”
Jessica Spence expresses that, “After the public sees my work, I hope that they see the subjects in my paintings as individuals who are going about their daily lives, just like them. I want people to understand that just because they are the same race does not mean they are monolith, which all ties back into the theme of the show ‘RESPECT’ and understanding that all people deserve it regardless of how they look.”
Photos Courtesy of the Artist