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The black female form, reborn 

SisterReVision challenges ideas of what black women look like.

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A chorus of giggles, snippets of conversation and the swishing of snowsuits emanate from a group of local children as they crowd against the heavy, closed doors of the library's Terry Symonds Auditorium. The door hinge creaks and squeaks its swing song as it opens just wide enough for a small head to peak inside. A little boy's face swivels on a thin neck as he surveys the room, eyes eagerly climbing over everything in sight. He opens his mouth, pauses, and to anyone and no one, asks: "What is it?"

 SisterReVision is a community art show hosted by Halifax Public Libraries in celebration of African Heritage Month. It began inside the Halifax North Memorial Library---with the subtitle A Womanist Perspective of the Black Female Body---before moving to the Cole Harbour Library with the subtitle Contemporary Womanist Perspective. No matter what it's called, this exhibit offers a variety of bold perspectives that challenge viewers to redefine their understanding of what it means to be a black woman.

This show features pieces by five artists who form the SisterReVision Collective: Kim Cain, Rebecca Fisk, Angel Gannon, Wendie Poitrais and Jasmine Wongus share a common African ancestry and Nova Scotian identity that they explore through their practices. They use acrylics and oils on canvas, mixed media on canvas, digital art and wood carving to express themselves.

A statement from the collective invites viewers to think about the black female body, saying, "we struggle with notions of race, representation and identity in a society that has historically placed us in the Jezebel, Mammy and angry Black Woman roles." The goal of the SisterReVision Collective and this exhibition is to resist white patriarchy and to challenge invisibility, objectification and stereotypical representations of the black female body.

The collective's womanist identity is different from a feminist identity. The term womanism signifies the efforts of black women to eradicate inequality. Wendie Poitrais says, "many black women never felt part of the feminist movement because black women were never included in the first or second wave of feminism." Poitrais says she never felt represented by feminism because black women were excluded from its white, middle-class agenda.

 Members of the collective create visual art to empower themselves and others. Instead of being represented as culturally-appropriated objects, these five women insist on being seen on their own terms. Poitrais says, "we thought it would be a great way to showcase our African Nova Scotian identity."

To prepare, Poitrais asked herself how she felt about being objectified as a black woman. "I came up with the word first: exposed. I feel exposed politically: classism, sexism, racism. I'm exposed to all those -isms."

Poitrais is a teacher by trade and a self-taught artist who primarily produces line drawings in India ink. For this exhibit she used acrylic paint and India ink on canvas to produce stylized, life-size paintings of a curvaceous, latte-coloured body. In "Exposed 1" and "Exposed 2," the simple, stunning lines of an exaggerated female form evoke ancient goddess iconography. The safety-orange background surrounding the full-bodied form draws attention and sets the image apart from its surroundings. The combination of the orange background, fluid black lines and goddess-like body, captures the viewer's eye and demands to be seen.

Women have been responding to how the artist captured what she calls a "traditional shape." "Do many women have come up to me," Poitrais says, "and said, 'That's my shape. That's me.'"

SisterReVision: Contemporary Womanist Perspective
Runs through Thursday, February 27
Cole Harbour Public Library, 51 Forest Hills Parkway, Cole Harbour


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