Tina Knowles-Lawson and her husband Richard Lawson have mounted Witness at WACO Theater Center in Los Angeles this month. The exhibition features works from L.A.-based Black femme-identifying artists who project their vision of the world, society, community and themselves through their art. The couple has been instrumental in creating a platform for contemporary performing and visual arts of the African Diaspora since they launched WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center in 2017.

This latest installation explores the intersectional vantage point of the Black woman artist and invites viewers to bear witness to what they may not otherwise see on their own.

Artist Genel Ambrose co-curated and is featured in the exhibit. “Black women’s humanity is often overlooked by mainstream American society. Witness is a visual record of Black women’s ability to harness identity, lineage and ancestral wisdom as superpowers enabling us to see—and be—what others cannot. I wanted Witness to feel like a homecoming for visitors and a safe space where they can bear witness to themselves reflected through art,” shares the artist.

In curating the show, Ambrose turned to the written word. “The writings and artistry of Black feminists, such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Toni Morrison and June Jordan transformed my life and gave me a vantage point to see myself more clearly outside of the stereotypical and often monolithic narratives of Black women," explains Ambrose. "The 15 artists featured in Witness share these values and project their vision of the world, society, community, and themselves through art. The art featured in Witness, for example, the altars, digital collage videos, braided chandeliers, and portraits of Black people existing wholly and beautifully, act as portals to a world where Black femmes can see ourselves on our terms.”

Witness Truth Portal
"Witness" Truth Portal. Image: Ashley Byrd.

Ambrose’s own work is on display in the exhibit. "In addition to curating Witness with Miss Tina, I created affirmation flags and an affirmation installation that are featured in the show," continues Ambrose. "The Truth Portal is a physical installation and web platform I built alongside incredible collaborators to serve as a safe space for Black women to find community and healing through affirmations and stories. Both the online and offline experiences invite viewers to create their own stories, poems and affirmations to share with other Black women and girls."

Here, three more Witness artists share the meaning behind their works.

Cara Elise Taylor

Caribeña, Cara Elise Taylor, 2023. Image: courtesy of the artist.
Caribeña, Cara Elise Taylor, 2023. Image: courtesy of Cara Elise Taylor.

“I make my work to tell stories about people and places—keeping an empathetic record of the world as it looks and feels to me. The stories I tell center around Blackness and Afro-Latin/Caribbean culture, food, health and wellness. With whatever I do, I hope it speaks to the fact that everything we need for a better world (and better selves) is already here and in us.” 

Cara Elise Taylor

Deun Ivory

Vision, Duen, 2023. Image: courtesy of the artist.
Vision, Deun Ivory, 2023. Image: courtesy of Deun Ivory.

“Through my photography, I am seeking to convey my belief that Black women are worthy of being loved, celebrated and revered in any and all spaces. My intention is rooted in the need to remind the world and us that we are enough, that we deserve to be acknowledged and seen and that the essence of who we are is something magical to delight in.”

Deun Ivory

Amber J. Phillips

Vanity: A Weeping Post, Amber K. Phillips, 2023. Image: Ashley Byrd.

"The biggest message that I'm seeking to convey through my art is that I exist. Black women who are a fat, dark-skinned and queer from the Midwest, are real, our life experiences are real. The harms as well as the joys that have happened to us are real. As someone who is talking about this from the perspective of being impacted by homophobia and fat phobia, it's important for me to stay alive. So it's not only about the viewer, but it's about making my conditions better, making my world better as well. This is just such an important space and time for Black women, Black femme and black, trans, queer, non binary artists to actually be curated in a way that speaks to the essence in the heart of our work."

Amber J. Phillips

Other artists featured in the exhibit include Alexis Hunley, Amber Evangelista, April Bey, Dana Davenport, Dee Williams, Elise Peterson, House of Aama, Liam Woods, Sade Ndya, Sophia Nahli Allison and Stephanie Mei-Ling. 

Witness, on display at WACO Theater Center in Los Angeles through May 27, 2023,