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

We are Black (magic) women. Us, who can have an entire conversation with just the word “girl.” Us, who can affirm each other with approving, supportive nods and knowing glances when we cross paths. Soulmates with coiled hair that carves through the sky and lips swollen with knowledge, ache, and desire. We all we got.

We are always asked to chose. Black liberation OR Feminism. “Class” OR sexual agency. Black women are too often cast as “de mule uh de world”1 because the world refuses to allow us to define ourselves or listen when we proclaim who we are. 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. 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

The AMERICAN WOMAN Project pushes back against the stereotypical archetype of the American Woman–white, blonde, obedient, privileged. Non-Black women are often celebrated for adopting style and characteristics Black women have gotten chastised for, i.e. bright-colored hair, grillz, cornrows with slicked down baby hair, big lips, thick hips, and substantial ass. 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.

Tracie Diane

Tracie Mae. Chicago, IL.

Dr. Imani Walker

Imani. Los Angeles, CA.

Liana Manteese

Liana. Pittsburgh, PA.

AMERICAN WOMAN will be realized as an art exhibition consisting of a series of mixed-media portraits and a full-length documentary. I’ve photographed and filmed women in Pittsburgh, PA, New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Atlanta, GA. Now that I’ve reached the culmination of my travels, a select number of portraits will be printed large-scale and embellished with gold foil, markers, acrylics, and more. These accoutrements will function as a visual interpretation of each woman’s thoughts, passions, and power. The remainder of the portraits will live on the website along with video shorts from the interviews. My goal is to present the project in a space in Pittsburgh (at minimum) as a multi-layered experience that engages multiple senses.

AMERICAN WOMAN exalts Black American women as art, but not as possessions or decoration. Our resilience is an art form. And it’s undeniably Black girl time: we are using our voices, talents, and style to define ourselves. 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.

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 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 AMERICAN WOMAN: a multi-media portrait and documentary series about Black American women; The Women’s Freedom Conference: a 12-hour digital conference that “broke the internet” amplifying the activism, successes, and existence of women of color worldwide; and 1839: a Pittsburgh-based magazine that offered a nuanced perspective of race, politics, the arts, and culture in the city and beyond. huny is also a freelance photographer for the Pittsburgh City Paper and a member of The Skibo Society, The Carnegie Museum of Art’s young professionals advisory board.

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. Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh 2016 - Pittsburgh Foundation & Heinz Endowments
    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