As many artists know, inspiration can sneak up on you when you least expect. It really seems like the moments when we are searching high and low for inspiration are the moments when it is nowhere to be found. This is both the incredibly frustrating, yet extremely beautiful conundrum that so many creatives go through on a daily basis.
For me, inspiration knocked on my dorm room doorstep in 2015 at my alma mater, Howard University. At the beginning of the spring semester of my junior year, I was given an assignment in my art journalism class to teach us the importance and process of developing a body of work as artists. The goal of the assignment was to capture the significance of a person, place, or thing using visual mediums. Now, if I’m being real, I only took this class to fulfill my credit requirements. So, it was to my surprise that in an effort to complete a seemingly mundane assignment, I found inspiration. Her name was Evelyn.
I met her in the cafeteria one day and decided to ask her if she would be alright with being the subject of my assignment, and she agreed. While I was outlining her sketch, there was a lot of awkward silence, so I decided to ask her why she chose to go to Howard. She told me that she got rejected from Spellmen, her dream school, but that she knew she wanted to go to an HBCU. She was accepted to other places, but Howard gave her the largest scholarship. I decided to ask her why she felt it was so important for her to get a dual degree. She explained that the majority of women in her family gave up education because of a man. In the end, she said, it screwed them over in life. She promised herself that she wouldn’t put herself in that position. She wanted to get her degree and acquire skills, so that she could have the freedom to decide her own path afterwards.
To my surprise, she asked me a basic yet profound question. “Besides looks”, she asked “what do you see in your subjects?” I told her that for her, I saw someone who seemed sure of herself and knew what she wanted to do with her life. After I completed her sketch, she asked me yet another thoughtful question. She asked me why I didn’t ask her how she wanted to be drawn before starting to draw her. That really made me think. So, I asked her if she had some more time to spare and how she wanted to be drawn. She explained that she wanted to be captured as a woman who was “humble, shy, but strong.”
That couldn’t be a more accurate depiction of who she was. I noticed as she was talking to me, whenever she said something that she felt was wrong or that she felt people would judge, she would bashfully put her chin to her shoulder. This is exactly how I wanted to depict her. I chose to capture her this way because I felt like, in a way, she was afraid of her own power and accomplishments. She knew her purpose and what she wanted, but at the same time she battled with her own decision. She was proud of it, but didn't want to be too proud of herself. It seemed like she was still questioning whether or not her choice was acceptable.
Evelyn made me think about how other women on campus might feel. Women of Howard University, an institution historically given the nickname “The Black Ivy League”, are often considered to be just that...the women of Howard. Maybe some of them wanted people to get to know the woman behind the degree. Perhaps, they wanted people to know about their journey of self-discovery, who they were as individuals, and what they wanted in life. Little did either of us know, but Evelyn became the first of nine unique and powerful women that I chose to depict in a collection of paintings that I later decided to call “The Black Ivy Collection.” The name of this collection was inspired by these nine women and their experiences and perceptions of what it means to be strong, educated Black women. For these women, while they were proud of their education, they had much more to them than that. Some may be the firsts in their families to walk that path. Some may have overcome struggles. None of them, however, are just their degrees.They are, in fact, everything it took to receive that degree.
To learn more about these amazing women and the stories that inspired the creation of “The Black Ivy Collection", stay tuned for posts and highlights on the Casiano Designs Instagram page!