Mary Ellen Pleasant: the fire, 2021, Mixed media
Mary Ellen Pleasant was one of the first Black female millionaires in California. Her work as a freedom fighter activist and as one of the first entrepreneurs in the Golden State, paved the way for so many. When I made this work, Mary was one of the first women in my Afrofuturism Syfy universe, where Black women are the main historical figures. My ongoing series and installation work titled Black Alchemy was birthed in part from some of the incredible stories about Black women in history such as Mary Ellen Pleasant.
Untitled (Burning), 2020, Collage
When I left my position as an engineer working in technology to become a full-time artist, two burning questions arose:
- Why is the general population, as well as educated, corporate America that is building technology for the future, unaware of the notable and historic contributions of the wider population? How has the pervasive ignorance of this knowledge base impacted the technologically and socially advanced world we currently inhabit?
- Where are the stories of Black women collectively being preserved and interrogated?
These questions led to three years of research, that has often felt like a hunt for a needle in a haystack. The beauty of our Los Angeles community is that failure is celebrated, the cross-pollination of mediums, ideas, and industries are nurtured, and there is an insatiable appetite for storytelling. This appetite weaves itself into the narrative of the creative energy. This piece was one of the first artworks in which I began to interrogate what the future could be for Black women and what freedom for Black women could look like in the present, in the past, and in the future.