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The Maker + The Mender: Brianna McCarthy

Saturday, August 12, 2017

According to her Instagram bio, local artist Brianna McCarthy “makes things”, but she does so much more. With a following of roughly twenty-thousand, two-hundred people on the social media platform, one can say she is an influencer of sorts. Her work was featured in the Lifetime movie, Love by the 10th Date, that featured a strong black, mostly female cast with names like Meagan Good, Kelly Rowland, Keri Hillson, and Kellee Stewart.

McCarthy’s career started out with simple drawings- documentation of the self. A seemingly innocent and personal act, but a political one nonetheless. McCarthy had noticed over the course of her life the issues that people had with skin shade and hair textures for women. From one a long-gone family matriarch who despised her blackness, to pamphlets trying to sell her skin bleaching cream, to family members telling her how she should wear her hair- McCarthy was tired. An act of immense self-love had turned into a career that would touch the hearts of thousands of girls and women just like McCarthy, who are too frequently told how they should look. Her self-portraits gradually grew into something much larger than just herself. Her work operates on a very intimate level, challenging traditional beauty standards and starting up genuine conversation about self-love.

McCarthy’s series Vetiver Night Women, that exhibited at Medulla Art Gallery in 2015, was a catharsis and the beginning of a discourse on mending. One June, she had met a character in a dream of hers, and brought her to life on a page. After this happened the artist spent four months in Cuba, and the dream hadn’t really left her. She was moved by the people, and the “vibes” of the country. Filled with inspiration and some fresh perspective, the Vetiver Night Women were born. These figures sought to reclaim the black female body, and to tell the stories of the people who have not been heard, through incredibly colourful, striking portraits. The portraits were goddesses, that donned aureoles made of leaves, and lived among the tall leaves of the vetiver plant (a plant known for holding the earth together). These women were healers, and advocates for change in the perception of coloured women.

McCarthy’s most recent exhibition, Matters of Inheritance, which is on view at the Virago Gallery in Seattle until August 26th, continues the narrative of mending. This exhibition illuminates the process of unlearning behaviors taught to us by society in an attempt to reconcile with ourselves. The artist examines internalized traumas caused by centuries of colonial mythologies forced upon us. The fact is that none of us are ahistorical beings. We inherit memories and traumas lived by our ancestors. Those experiences live in our bones and silently haunt us, resulting in displaced selves and internalised rage. She confronts the ways in which black women are told to exist while carrying the burden of generations of abuse. Matters of Inheritance is another act of immense self-love by the artist, a reclamation of not just herself, but also all those just like her. Through making, the artist is rewriting these histories, and reframing her image within them. These new rituals and histories will be the inheritance of the next generation. Rituals of love for ourselves, beauty, and liberation.


Follow Brianna McCarthy on Instagram if you already aren’t: @macabrii

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