Ha-gawda-why-uk?! Nuni Neyan Fawn Douglas, and I’m writing from our beautiful City of Las Vegas, which lies on the Nuwuvi homelands of the Southern Paiute people. A little bit about me: I am a Cultural Engagement Specialist on the Social Impact team for Meow Wolf, an MFA student and Art Instructor at UNLV, co-owner of Nuwu Art + Activism Studios, and co-organizer for the Womxn of Color Arts Festival (WOCAF).
As co-organizer of WOCAF, I am part of the embers that stoked the fire of an incredible effort in 2020, a beautiful initiative that built a foundation for WOC artists, writers, scholars, and educators to thrive. This fire continues to roar in 2021 through our partnership with the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Fine Art at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The year-long collaboration has featured exhibitions and projects since August 2020 and will continue running through August of this year.
The festival started as the brainchild of Elizabeth Colon Nelson; co-organized by Ashanti McGee, Jennifer Klevin, and myself as the head of curation of the gallery exhibition, Art of Us. WOCAF was originally a celebration of womxn boasting four days of art exhibitions, workshops, forums, live music, spoken word, yoga, storytelling, and performance.
This year, the Womxn of Color Arts Festival has evolved into a stronger bond, a collective. Through WOCAF’s partnership with the Barrick Museum, we were granted funding by the Mellon Foundation to continue creating art and programming of and by womxn artists. It is currently Women’s History Month, but why limit the festival to a month, or a weekend? Let’s take the year and beyond to celebrate and uplift womxn!
So far, WOCAF and the Barrick have hosted WOC artists in several exhibitions: Ashley Hairston Doughty, Kept to Myself; Lance L. Smith, In the Interest of Action; and Proofby Tiffany Lin. In addition to their installation, Lance L. Smith has created a directory of prominent WOC artists and allies to know.
Ashanti McGee is curating the next exhibition at the Barrick. A Common Thread showcases lineage through various textiles and forms, craft, culture, and heritage in the traditions and abstraction. The exhibition features work by Adriana Chavez, Ashley Hairston Doughty, Yacine Tilala Fall, Noelle Garcia, Isar King, Tiffany Lin, Desire Moheb-Zandi, Lyssa Park, and Ailene Pasco. A Common Thread opens April 2 and runs through July 2, 2021.
This is only the start, though. There are even more installations to come!
For one, Erica Vital-Lazare will unveil a reimagined Obsidian and Neon in the late summer and early fall. Obsidian and Neon celebrates black life and identity in Las Vegas through forums and art, an integral connection and bloodline to the Womxn of Color Arts Festival in 2020.
The partnerships continue with Dr. Erika Abad, who is helping to craft a workshop at the Vegas Theater Company, “The Embodied Testimonio.” Dr. Abad is the Assistant Professor-in-Residence in Gender and Sexuality Studies in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at UNLV. Her body of work goes beyond Puerto Rican, Latinx, and Gender Studies as Dr. Abad is a well-published essayist, poet, and fiction writer. She builds her workshop after her Latinx class and unites that knowledge with body-based practices that Elizabeth Colon Nelson has developed as a faculty member at Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theater. This workshop will start at the Vegas Theater Company, a WOCAF community partner, and will conclude with an intimate talkback session held in the Barrick to an invitation-only audience.
The Barrick is also seeking to acquire works from the WOCAF Collective for future generations of students and families seeking the interdisciplinary knowledge that is passed on through the objects and recordings from these exhibitions. The work of elevating womxn of color thrives through many departments and student groups. Aside from the relationships with the Barrick Museum of Fine Art and Vegas Theater Co., many community connections on campus and off campus are being nurtured.
Art has the power to lift consciousness and provide healing energies. While we navigate through the pandemic, WOCAF provides a communal sanctuary for artists and spectators. Similarly, the Barrick holds space for WOC and all that wish to learn about the arts through diverse perspectives. To encourage participation and attendance, they have also developed a system for free appointments for all. Masks are mandatory, and the museum maintains clean and safe standards.
Healing energy passes from artist to artist throughout WOCAF exhibitions, blessing the grounds of the Barrick, which rest on Southern Paiute lands. The Womxn of Color Arts Festival is also assisting to craft language regarding land acknowledgements and Indigenous connections. Meaningful dialogue is happening behind the scenes and throughout these exhibitions, creating a bridge for marginalized communities.
Healing has been a theme of 2021, with womxn of color leading the way to offer their teachings through works that manifest a flair of spiritual practice and ancestral knowledge.