Thursday, June 25, 2009

damali ayo: Realities of What It Means to be an Activist Artist

(originally posted 10/08 at wordpress)

by Kaleigh Vance

On Tuesday September 30th, PSU’sWomen’s Resource Center along with B-Word/Bitch Magazine presented the first lecture in the series “Feminist Perspectives in Pop Culture” with damali ayo’s “Shut Up and Change: A Life as a Social Change Artist.”

Portland resident ayo has touched the lives of others with her art for as long as she can remember. Her first piece of artwork, an intricately made 3D replica of the White House, displayed early on her interest in our country and society. Since then she has contributed numerous works of art that have been displayed in galleries around the world.

Among her well known works of art is “the little black dress project,” of which damali says, “re-discovers the emotional, sensual, erotic, violent, intellectual, playful realities of women's lives." This project includes various dresses made to reflect the diversity of women’s experiences.

Another powerful piece is ayo’s “flesh tone.” With this particular project, ayo went to a paint store that claimed to be able to match any tone. She asked the salesperson if they could really match any color, to which he replied yes. “Can you match this?” she asked, as she pointed to her arm. The salesperson responded by saying, “Yes, but I’ve never matched a flesh tone before.” This was the first time damali recalls her skin as being referred to as “flesh tone.” In “flesh tone” damali painted a variety of canvases with eight different shades of her skin along with the audio of her conversations with the people at the paint shop entitled “the paintmixers.”

Ayo is also known for her work concerning anti-racism. One of her thought provoking pieces regarding race is “living flag” in which she panhandles for reparations on the streets of various cities. “Living flag” has led to the establishment of “The National Day of Panhandling for Reparations,” which started on October 10, 2007. An additional work by ayo addressing racism is “shift: we are not done” which is “an exploration of contemporary racism using everyday objects and cultural icons.” At the beginning of her gallery openings for this project, she asked people to wear what one would assume at first glance to be name tags, but in actuality said, “Hi! My race is…” on which the attendant would write either “black,” “white,” or “other.”

damali ayo is truly an innovative and inspirational artist and person, making the first lecture of the “Feminist Perspectives in Pop Culture” truly a success. Please join us at the next lecture of the series featuring Susie Bright on November 18th.

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