photo by Riley Blanks
I am personally so honored to share Riley Banks and Virginia Cumberbatch in conversation on identity, representation and claiming space, recorded live at our Austin location this past February. What feels like a lifetime ago is also now more pressing subject matter than ever.
Without further ado, let's hear from the artist herself - or jump directly to her podcast here.
From artist & panelist, Riley Blanks:
The very first episode of my podcast, Woke Beauty, is a live, uncut conversation between @vacumberbatch and me at the opening reception at @mirandabennettstudio for my series, Manifest. When I went to write about what this means, I struggled. My fingers hovered above the keyboard, unsure of where to begin. I recalled how I felt when I first moved to Austin: out of place. Cringing as strangers threw their hands in my hair. Deflecting microaggressions at gatherings. Stiffening after racist remarks. Occupying rooms that rarely reflected the multicultural world I grew up in. As my fingers hovered, my thoughts proliferated until I paused at ‘how?’. ‘How can I create stimulus and awareness?’ The answer remained: communicate artfully.
Blanks, Left & Cumberbatch, Right. Photo by Jillian Savage.
My self portrait series, ‘Manifest’, reveals that black bodies deserve to enjoy the great outdoors. In a land where African Americans so often feel unsafe and demoralized, my aim was to actively claim space in a way that felt layered with longing. Being outside should not equate punishment. It should not be symbolized with the act of picking cotton nor being pinned down by a police officer’s knee. It should not be synonymous with getting your hair tugged nor your body groped. My work is my hope: that one day, in entirety, we can have freedom outside, introspectively, in our community and while living in a metropolis.
What we choose to remember speaks to what we choose to forget. Awareness and advocacy for the black experience should never lie dormant. @wokebeauty was born from my own identity journey, an aspect that has never been peripheral to my art. The brand is not one dimensional, but rather all encompassing; a call to reimagine self celebration in a colorful space that amplifies voices too often left unheard — one that I wish had existed when I first moved to Austin. The dream was for it to live off of a virtual platform. But with our current societal climate, I had to find a way to create it elsewhere. And so it will exist in podcast format - through your stories and mine.
photo by Jillian Savage
A live discussion between Woke Beauty's Riley Blanks, and creative, scholar and organizer, Virginia Cumberbatch celebrating the debut of Riley Blanks’ self portrait series, Manifest. Here, they share in dialogue focused on identity, representation and claiming space.
Manifest speaks to the lack of authentic representation of women of color in Austin and further, our country at large. Through compelling imagery and writing, Riley dispels the notion that in order for black and brown women to be acknowledged in a cosmopolitan space, they must faultlessly perform. The silver lining around her series proclaims that women of color have the capacity to claim space with their presence alone.
Virginia Cumberbatch’s work sits at the intersection of community advocacy and storytelling. Virginia has served as Director of equity and community advocacy for The University of Texas at Austin's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, since 2016, helping drive the university's vision to become less of an ivory tower, and more of a community anchor addressing issues of access and equity. Virginia is also the co-founder of Rosa Rebellion, “a platform for creative activism by and for women of color that launch at SXSW 2019.
Miranda Bennett Studio is an ethical women's apparel brand based in Austin, TX. They make exceptional, plant-dyed clothing with an all-woman team in the USA. Their considered apparel is Zero Waste and sustainable by design, prioritizing style, versatility, and comfort. They are a female-founded and independently owned.
Cumberbatch, Left & Blanks, Right. photo by Jillian Savage