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Photographer and artist explores Black culture and identity through history, personal narrative

Photographer and artist explores Black culture and identity through history, personal narrative

Photographer and artist explores Black culture and identity through history, personal narrative
February 05
12:00 2020

Photographer and artist Theresa Newsome describes herself as a narrator. Through her use of minimal spaces and materials, Newsome’s work touches on themes of identity, race, racism and womanist thought through the historical and personal stories she collects along the way.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Newsome moved to Texas when she was 13 years old. It was at this time that Newsome said she noticed the cultural differences between the North and the South.

“As a person of color in the North, I was more comfortable being myself and seeing other people of color around me with the same socioeconomic background,” Newsome said. “Moving to the South, I was both a witness and victim to passive racism, microaggressions and outright racism, especially while I was in school.”

Newsome said it was when she started creating art in college that she became interested in these microaggressions and the historical context of the South within her work. During her junior year of college in an intro to photography class, she discovered how photography could embody her ideas as compared to other forms of art.

“Photography is such a malleable medium and is able to be combined with any form of art such as drawing, painting, sculpture or fibers,” Newsome said. “With drawing and painting, I found myself focusing too much on the skill of being able to draw or paint to depict the image I was trying to create.”

Newsome said while she applied for graduate schools, she knew that she wanted to continue her journey in photography. She attended graduate school at TWU and said she was inspired to create the work she wanted by the artists and colleagues she worked with.

“Seeing [her passion] and determination in creating a powerful body of work that displays historical events and exploring American Black culture, Theresa’s photography speaks volumes,” DFW photographer Margarita Infante said. “It’s powerful, raw and authentic.”

Betsy Gravatt, a former colleague and learning associate at Dallas Contemporary, said that while in graduate school, she could always find Newsome in the studio or lab working.

“I feel like with all of her pieces, she has considered every detail and makes sure everything aligns with her concepts,” Gravatt said. “Grad school is a super unique bubble and it’s nice to have people to rely on who also inspire you to work hard.”

Newsome describes herself as a history buff whose ideas for pieces often stem from documentaries, podcasts and articles. In one of her series, “Sims,” she comments on the legacy of Dr. Marion Sims, often regarded as a father of gynecology due to inventing the speculum.

“What’s not really discussed is the fact that he tortured Black female slaves by experimenting and studying them,” said Newsome. “Historically Black women have always been hesitant or cautious [of] going to the doctor, due to stereotypes of Black women not feeling pain or having a different biological make up than other women.”

Through stories such as that of Dr. Sims, Newsome said she wants to address stereotypes through a historical lens in order to see how these stereotypes were created and why we still believe them today.

“I never really get emotional making my work per se, [but] it is often hard making the work because to some degree they are based in reality,” Newsome said. “A lot of the events and people I reference in my work are real people such as Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy, the slaves that Dr. Sims tortured, and that’s often hard to think about.”

In her series, “What my Mother Told Me…”, Newsome collected over a year’s worth of interviews along with stories told to her during childhood through the women in her family.

“I interviewed different people of color, asking them how they defined Black culture,” Newsome said. “It was so interesting hearing different definitions from different backgrounds, and it made me realize that there is no clear definition.”

Newsome said that the definition of Black culture by itself is complex due to its long history and how different backgrounds can change each person’s perspective of what it means to be African-American.

“The way my mother raised me and how her mother raised her, to me, are stepping-stones in how Black culture is still being created,” Newsome said. “It’s something that was robbed from a lot of people, and African-Americans are still trying to create their own footing and structure within America.”

Series such as “Sims” and “What my Mother Told Me…,” draw upon the experience of oppression felt by women of color interconnected between the past and the present. Newsome said that during conversations of female equality or the female experience, women of color can often get left out as the trials and tribulations that women of Caucasian descent are often unrelated to those of women of color.

“I feel like with understanding and exploring my identity as a Black woman, it’s important to explore and question the racial components and the racism that is prevalent both past and present,” Newsome said. “Ideas of womanism and the significance of the mother figure are important factors in my own identity. My personal view, experiences and thoughts are always going to play a pivotal role in those works because they are so personal and important to me.”

Courtesy Theresa Newsome

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Jordan Kidd

Jordan Kidd

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