Moyo Oyelola & Aimèe M. Everett Explore the Artists’ Language of Hope
Listen in on the conversation between two Black artists at the George Washington Carver Museum
Artists Aimèe M. Everett and Moyo Oyelola may work in different mediums, but they are cut from similar cloth, stitched from the cascading joys and elevations of Blackness. Arriving at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, which—like many of Austin’s public spaces—remains closed to the public amid an ongoing pandemic, the pair met to discuss perspectives and hope in the middle of COVID-19 and transformative social change.
Oyelola is a photographer, multimedia artist and activist whose work has been featured in brand films, advertising, editorial, music videos and environmental and public art installations. A “product of two worlds,” the Nigerian-born Austinite’s work forges intimacy into purposeful interactions touching all ends of the African diaspora, from Pan-African to the modern West. In January, he assisted in the creative direction of a Carver exhibit cut short by the pandemic: The African American Presence in 19th Century Texas.
As part of the core exhibit, lead curator Carre Adams commissioned Everett’s piece, “The Blood Stained Ship.” With each project, Everett holds a single question to the light: What lingers in the silences we hold between each spoken word? In examining these occasions of acute, often generational noiselessness, she attempts to discover and maneuver through genuine emotions while also investigating women’s conditioning. With specifically Black women in mind, the New Orleans native seeks to interpret these silences’ compounding and intersectional natures while extending beyond misogyny. Her Carvercommissioned piece speaks to this silence, using various colors to tell the presumably chained soon-to-be slaves’ stories as individuals, remembering that each would arrive with unique pasts and narratives.
In October, the Carver Museum marked its 40th anniversary and will soon undergo a much needed expansion, a project in the making since 1998. With growth and transformation on the agenda, the pair allowed Tribeza to listen in to their thoughts about our collective future and their perspectives on Black tragedy and language in art.
Kahron Spearman: Given the unsettled state of the world, how do you maintain the hunger or inner compulsion to create?
Moyo Oyelola: You’re always kind of wondering [why you create] as you take on challenges and evaluate what’s happening on a day-to-day basis in obviously interesting times in our country. I think when you’re Black, you can’t afford not to be conscious about what’s going on, right?
From adolescence, you realize that art, whether it’s music or painting or whatever, is a form of language. It’s a form of cataloging your experiences and [a broader] past, things that happened decades or hundreds of years ago. So the ability to put that to paper and pencil, or in some physical form, or even in dance form, kind of honors that lineage of people that came before you and their sacrifice.
Then there’s a bit of a future-setting aspect to it as well. It’s like, What can we aspire to be as a group, as a culture?
Aimèe M. Everett: I think art is asking questions that maybe people wouldn’t ask, that they don’t even know need to be asked. As an artist, I am first an observer. It makes me ask, Why do we behave that way? My work is about language and how language and words are just abstractions. And after we’ve spoken, we still have so many leftover things that we haven’t said because we don’t know how to say them. We don’t have any way to define them. And so I asked the questions of, OK, so what do those emotions look like? What do those unsaid things look like?
KS: How have your personal and artistic perspectives shifted in the midst of this, a wildly transformative year on numerous fronts?
AE: It’s pushed me in a way to create more, in a more poignant way, more specific, more pointedly. Before, I was creating in this abstract way and asking these questions. Now I feel like I need to question my existence more as a Black woman—not question it, like, Why am I here? But questioning it in the way of, Why is it that I have to know how Black men move, how white women move, how white men move and maneuver around every single one of you guys?
I won’t paint black pain because it’s already there and it’s already palpable. What you need on your wall is work representing [Black people] as human.”
I’m also questioning and realizing the power in interpreting all of these other people in a way that has to keep me safe. So now I recognize I’m talking to Black women and little Black girls. I was creating in that same vein, but I wanted to show people who look like me that they could do it. Now there’s more ferocity to it, in realizing that it has to be done.
MO: Which is kind of good, I think, in the sense that these times tested every individual, based on two things: how and why. The how is easy for most people, like, How do you make money? Did you go to work? You got a 9-to-5, and you go to brunch on the weekend, so you do this and that [to make money]. The whys are deeper questions that a lot of people are still figuring out.
Naturally, as artists, you’re continually evolving through your why and running that through your art. So everything’s shut down, the how changed, but I wasn’t shaken, because my why was still strong. I still needed to represent, you know, Black stories, and “do it for the culture” all the way through. Maybe I can’t do it in Chicago or anything like that. And I’m limited to Austin, but it was still just as important, right?
At the same time, this time has given me space to dream even bigger. And that was how I was entering the year, with love as a mantra. I don’t want to say this is fitting, but one of the unintended benefits has given me time to focus on those, and also, What does bigger actually mean? Then how do you make that tangible?
AE: It also tests you as a creative, if you’re a true artist or musician, because it’s hard to create now. With all this happening, are you still able to create? Do you still have a need and a want to create?
I’ve never really painted Black pain; I’ve just painted about myself. And so I made sure even if I was feeling this thing, I balanced it out with other human emotions because I didn’t want my pain to be bought.
Right now, I won’t paint, like, pictures of Breonna Taylor, [because] that was never my course. I was commissioned in 2018 to do a piece for Terrence Roberts, who was part of the Little Rock Nine, who integrated Little Rock [Central] High School. That painting sold, and someone reached out to me to re-create it. And I was like, “I’m not re-creating that because that was based upon this other person’s experience.”
I won’t paint Black pain because it’s already there and it’s already palpable. What you need on your wall is work representing [Black people] as human, just like you have a Van Gogh or a Picasso or whoever else you have in your walls with beautiful water lilies, and all that other stuff. You need to allow me to paint some flowers, too.