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The Public Spaces of Black Women


"Five Women", 1890. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Photographs and Prints Division


The Public Spaces of Black Women

In New York City, there is a tradition of Black women artists and intellectuals organizing independent spaces, both public and private, in pursuit of an equitable future for Black folk and Black women, in particular. Whether created as political action, performance, educational advocacy, or social recreation, the convening spaces and public institutions established by Black women are structured around providing social services, developing intersectional discourses for political reform and resistance, and the advancement of Black art and cultural production. These spaces are a part of a lexicon of Black urban survival in the United States and have collectively shaped a racialized and gendered architecture of sustainability that has transfigured Black life and livelihood in places like New York City.

This textual mapping of Black women creating public spaces for Black New Yorkers is culled on the occasion of the Black Art Incubator (BAI). BAI is a programming hub for the Black art community, created by Taylor Renee Aldridge, Jessica Bell Brown, Kimberly Drew, and Jessica Lynne. Participatory and accessible in function, the project is a live think tank and resource exchange that posits the subjective needs and gaps facing Black art professionals. Offering a curated series of workshops, crits, and more, BAI’s open source workspace is an effective gesture towards the social work of collaboration and skill sharing.

To contextualize the presence of BAI and other artist spaces and programs that are taking shape within the landscape of contemporary american art, a selection of Black women’s leadership in radicalizing public and convening spaces in the spirit of Black communal welfare is presented below.

This text highlights the founding of the White Rose Mission; the artist spaces led by Augusta Savage in Harlem; and the collective activism of Black feminist artists, Faith Ringgold and Michelle Wallace, during the 1970s. These examples represent the continuum of (1) Black women’s labor and practice as educators and caretakers within the space of Black art and cultural survival, and (2) Black women’s intellectual bodies as strategists, organizers, and transgressors of public space.