Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer
Pink and yellow butterflies frame a Black woman dressed in a blue, floral dress. Shades of green, purple, blue and pink paint her skin as she confidently looks over her shoulder at the viewer.
“Daisy” is one of two paintings by Richmond artist Justice Dwight that will be showcased in “The Many Faces of the Black Woman” at The Well, Richmond’s only Black-owned and operated art gallery, curator Ra-Twoine Fields said.
“It’s just always been really nice,” Dwight said of the gallery. “It always feels like family.”
The exhibit, which opened Tuesday and will run until April 16, centers on the complexities and intersectionality of being a Black woman in the U.S. It features the submissions of more than 13 artists from across the country and explores themes such as beauty, mental health and leadership.
“Daisy” and Dwight’s second painting, “Ruella,” both feature plus-size Black women, which the artist said he was inspired to portray after experiencing changes to his own body during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dwight said he wanted to highlight plus-size Black women in his work because he does not see them represented enough in art.
“There’s so much beauty in our bodies being different and our bodies being able to change,” Dwight said. “I wanted to showcase that in my artwork. I don’t see enough Black people represented, and I don’t see enough fat Black people represented either.”
Having previously showcased at The Well, Dwight said he considers the gallery to be a safe environment to explore a diverse range of themes.
“It gives us a space to tell our stories,” Dwight said. “And it’s a space where you can share these stories and you don’t feel like you’re going to get shunned for it, no matter what the story is.”
The Well was first opened in 2018 by co-owners James Harris and Ajay Brewer in 2018. Located on Hull Street in the Blackwell neighborhood of Richmond, Brewer and Harris opened the gallery to show the cultural changes occurring in the area and preserve the history of the neighborhood, according to the gallery’s website.
Fields, a Richmond artist, has acted as curator for The Well since 2018. For “The Many Faces of the Black Woman,” Fields said he wanted to showcase an exhibit that represented the perspective of Black women during Women’s History Month.
“The intersectionality of being Black in America and pairing that with being a woman in America is a very delicate topic, and a lot of times you get people that try to split the two,” Fields said. “Either we’re gonna talk about being a woman, or we’re gonna talk about being Black.”
“I think Black women should always be highlighted. There are just so many stereotypes around Black women, so I hope that people will let those go and just be able to see a Black woman for who she is.” — Genevieve DeMarco, featured artist
Fields said it is important to use his platform as a curator to include a wide range of perspectives.
“It’ll be interesting to see what themes come out,” Fields said. “I’ve seen pieces that explore identity, mental health and different projections of beauty concepts.”
“The Many Faces of the Black Woman” is not The Well’s first politically and socially conscious exhibit. Last month, the gallery featured “Domestic Warfare,” an exhibit centered around police violence in the United States, in honor of Black History Month.
“We showed pieces that challenged people’s experiences and challenged people’s privileges as well,” Fields said. “I think that it was interesting to see how people create a conversation from pieces. And that’s always a goal.”
The Well acts as a center for a number of community resources, such as legal aid, mental health services and employment assistance, Fields said.
“We’re functioning kind of like a beehive,” Fields said. “I’ve noticed that a lot of nonprofits and community organizations have a lack of space to centralize what they have going on. So that’s what we’re offering.”
Fields said The Well’s status as the sole Black-owned gallery in the city is upsetting.
“It’s kind of embarrassing that Richmond doesn’t have more Black-owned art galleries,” Fields said. “How Richmond tries to use Black artistry and creativity as a facade for change and progress in this city is laughable.”
Fields has encountered a number of Black artists in Richmond who believe they have been excluded or overlooked by other galleries, he said.
“I’ve had a plethora of artists come to me and just say, ‘Thank you for giving me a chance,’” Fields said. “The doors are often closed, and no one can get in unless you know so-and-so.”
Louisiana-based artist Genevieve DeMarco is also showcased in the exhibit. DeMarco has experienced rejection toward work that portrayed police violence against Black Americans from other galleries that did not want to showcase political or potentially controversial work, she said.
“A lot of my paintings are about social issues,” DeMarco said. “Anything like that type of subject matter, they sometimes want you to stay away from. A lot of the gallery board of directors are a whole bunch of older white people.”
DeMarco’s piece, “I’m a Fool to Want You” is an expressionist painting that features a colorblocked background of blues, oranges and reds. Overlaid is the likeness of a woman and the lyrics of “I’m a Fool to Want You” by jazz singer Billie Holiday, from which DeMarco said she took inspiration.
“I think Black women should always be highlighted,” DeMarco said. “There are just so many stereotypes around Black women, so I hope that people will let those go and just be able to see a Black woman for who she is.”