AMERICAN WOMAN
is a multimedia portrait and interview series about Black American women.

I was born a Black girl in the U.S., where I was taught from a very young age by media and mainstream society that beauty and worth primarily looks like a white, blonde, blue-eyed woman. Where “all American girls” looked nothing like me, the women in my family, nor my brown-skinned friends. Black women, femmes, and girls are constantly bombarded with problematic messaging about who deserves value, where people that look like us “belong” and where we’re welcome. Yet and still, we’re making art and manifesting beauty and being hilarious and intellectually stunning out here.

AMERICAN WOMAN is a multimedia portrait and interview series about Black women in America—American for multiple generations, first generation American, or American via naturalization or dual citizenship. Pitched to the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant in January 2016 and officially launched in July 2016, the series pushes back against the stereotypical archetype most people picture, and the characteristics most associate with the term “American woman.” It’s about intersectionality and womanism. It’s about our complex relationship with this country and the labor we’re tasked with as it’s most resilient, brilliant population. 

We are always asked to chose. Black liberation OR Feminism. “Class” OR sexual agency. Black women, cisgender and transgender, are too often charged with an inequitable amount of mental, emotional, intellectual, and societal labor and denied the right to define our own narratives and frame our work as we see fit (see: “de mule uh de world”1). This is particularly true of Black American women. Most of us descend from enslaved Africans who built this country sans free will—making the concept of patriotism complicated at best and a point of contention or even shame at worst, especially when that labor is, to this day, seen as duty. Some of us are first-generation Americans, whose parents only had their native tongue and culture in tow when they immigrated to the “land of the free.” Some of us spent more money than we could afford and stayed up countless nights studying to become a naturalized citizen. Despite this ancestry, resilience, and sacrifice, damn near all of us have been told we don’t belong, we don’t fit in, we don’t look “American enough”, or to “go back where we came from.” Our existence is a balancing act of immeasurable perspective and value.

…I insist on the right to criticize [America] perpetually…2

Tracie Diane

Tracie Mae. Chicago, IL.

Dr. Imani Walker

Imani. Los Angeles, CA.

Liana Manteese

Liana. Pittsburgh, PA.

AMERICAN WOMAN will ultimately be realized as a full-length documentary, an art exhibition consisting of large-format (life-sized), mixed-media (giclée prints, gold foil, dura-lar, acrylic paint) portraits, video shorts, an interactive website, and a coffee table book. I’ve photographed and filmed interviews with almost 70 women in Pittsburgh, PA, New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, Los Angeles, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Atlanta, GA over the past year and a half. Now that I’ve reached the culmination of my travels, my attention has turned to editing the documentary; continuing to populate the website and social media platforms with portraits and interview clips; and strategizing the most impactful ways to present the exhibition as a multi-layered experience that engages multiple senses, including modifying spaces willing to house it by way of extending the portraits beyond their canvases and projecting video onto the walls, the ceilings, and the floors.

AMERICAN WOMAN exalts Black American women as art, but not as possessions or decoration. Our vivacity, our allegiance to each other, and our loyalty to Blackness and womanhood is an art form. And it’s undeniably Black girl time: we are using our voices, talents, magic, and style to reign in every industry. All the AMERICAN WOMAN participants are Black American women, but that the project is not called BLACK AMERICAN WOMAN is intentional.  This is a recasting of a mold. We’re not to be invisible, silent, or othered any longer. We’re not an insignificant monolith, we’re a resilient, powerful myriad. We’re beautiful, nonconforming works. We are a museum of modern art. We are the AMERICAN WOMAN.

sarah huny young

About the artist

sarah huny young is an award-winning3 creative director, interdisciplinary artist, photographer, and 18-year veteran of the tech industry. Born in Denver and bred in NYC, huny previously enjoyed successful senior and director tenures at BET, VIBE Magazine, and UltraStar (founded by the late, great David Bowie) before moving to Pittsburgh to form SCDA.co. Most recently, huny served as Director of Marketing & Communications for Pittsburgh Filmmakers / Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PF/PCA), a non-profit arts organization, and a freelance photographer for Pittsburgh City Paper.

A veteran of the Black blogosphere and Howard University grad, huny launched her first website in 2000. The now-defunct thatbitch.com was an experimental, digital playground that housed provocative imagery of Black women and served as an exploration of unapologetic youth, queerness, and sensuality in a society that demanded either modesty or sex for male consumption only. Her expansive projects over the years expand on the concept of intersectionality. That body of work includes The Women’s Freedom Conference: a 12-hour digital conference that centered women of color worldwide; 1839: a Pittsburgh-based magazine that offered a nuanced perspective of race, politics, the arts, and culture in the city and beyond; and AMERICAN WOMAN, a portrait and interview series about Black American women that was awarded the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant in 2016. huny is currently a member of an advisory board at the Carnegie Museum of Art, one of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “12 People to Meet in Pittsburgh 2018”, and #72 on The Root 100, an annual list of the most influential African-Americans.

I, and other women like me, get to be an unapologetic enigma. We get to be complex and dizzying. My work is a love letter to my muses/allies in this beautiful, painful dichotomy.

Footnotes

  1. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, J. B. Lippincott, 1937 (more)
  2. James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, Beacon Press, 1984 (more)
  3. The Root 100 2017 (more)
    Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh 2016 - Pittsburgh Foundation & Heinz Endowments (more)
    Best Music Blog 2010, 2011 (Soulbounce) - The Black Weblog Awards
    Best Soul Site 2010 (Soulbounce) - Soul Train Awards
    Best Blog Design 2010 (Mostbeautifullest) - The Black Weblog Awards