My black pinup collectible series is the art I’m most proud. I first discovered that our legacy surpassed the obvious like Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge about 5-years ago. I attended an event at the Art Scape festival in Baltimore Maryland. My best friend and I went to a “fetish” themed, interactive art performance. There was so much going on that it took us nearly all night to get around to everything. Towards the end of the performance there was a scene on pinup queens and burlesque. All of the pinup performers were white. The film they showed starred a white woman. The magazines, calendars, jewelry, tees, and art they sold were plastered with white women. My best friend and I shared a brief glance, a glance filled with unspoken sorrow and disappointment that we didn’t exist there, how black women in history could literally be glossed over in the 21st century without a thought. There was a void that only black women can understand.
I asked the curator and one of the artists of the show where the black pinup models like Josephine Baker were. I assumed that there was more to the performance. She told me that she had never heard of any black pinup models before and that she really wouldn’t put Josephine Baker in the category of a “real” pinup model. I was hurt-it was written all over my expression. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how even a seemingly free thinking, college educated, white, female artist from a metropolitan area had no clue about any black pinup models, even just by chance during one of her college courses or something. I vowed to myself and my best friend that I would get to the bottom of all of this. It took me sometime, but I finally did my own research. I was down on myself thinking why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. It took me several weeks to find viable and honest resources about black pinup queens of the time, but I found about 100 images.
Aside from the images I was shocked to learn that there was no representation of art online or otherwise featuring vintage black pinups. I felt isolated about the whole thing, so I started generating conversations about it with family and friends. And after discussing the topic with several women I realized that I was no longer alone and that other women of color had similar convictions. I was moved by the excitement and curiosity in the conversations I was having, the spark that was lit in all of us. Something that I had tapped into, filled something in us all, stirring something much deeper than a mere moment. There were so many concerns from the women I conversed with for example, feeling tired of being underrepresented in media and history books, being subjected to white pinup models like #marilynmonroe #bettiepage and #bettegrable as if they represented the standard of beauty in all women, and lastly the sadness of seeing young black girls wearing teeshirts and other fashion trends that mimicked white women-how so many young black girls despised their own bodies so much to change their very own images, altering their Afrikan heritage, a rich and ambitious heritage all its own.
As a trendsetter in my community, lover of vintage errrydamnthang (well maybe not everything), but basically as a creative person I was disappointed that my search revealed nothing. Naythan reflecting vintage black pinup models online. ZERO Y’all! The lack thereof set forth in me a spiritual motion. I decided to be the first, but certainly not the last to create such art the way I envisioned it. I knew that my vision was not going to be like anyone else’s, so I went for it. My goal was to create wearable vintage art for people of color to be proud-to identify with. I thought of how dope it would be start a movement, a revolution, an awakening of something we know so little about. My earlier pinups were “buttons/pins” comprised of personalized sonnets and some adorned with mixed media materials. I gifted them to the women in my life. I did that to guesstimate how many would actually be brave enough to wear them. I know “brave” is suggestive, but you’d be surprised of how many of us black women feel shame and ridicule about our bodies. I was proud of the folks that willingly engaged my art, a topic that is otherwise taboo and unheard of.
Over the years, I began to transform my pinup button collection into other forms of wearable art like earrings and necklaces. My creative process with the pinups has been one of #spiritual fortitude. Freeing with an abundance of creative energy. And while I’ve added my own creative twist to the collectibles I wouldn’t be able to do any of it without them. The women’s images themselves-women that posed for a myriad of reasons. Brave birds. I always thank them. I always ask them to find me. I always tell them how I wish to honor them, never overpowering or overshadowing their stories, their beauty because they’re enough. I always ask them for guidance. Our relationship is similar to the way I view my ancestors and the alter I worship them on. I view each pinup as her own alter that will be a blessing to the lovely person that is called to her.
Sadly, the majority of the magazines and news spreads graced by black women were disproportionate, often hyper-sexualized, and lewd. Unlike #white pinup models of the time, praised for their #beauty, black pinup models were #fetishized for their #sexual prowess and curvaceous attributes. #Blackgirls who weren’t cherished by soldiers overseas, pinned on walls, or lockers, but were hidden under mattresses, beneath floor boards, cloaked in secrecy, fetishized in private, disposed of and belittled in public. Black pinup girls were not idealized versions of what was thought of as #beautiful or attractive. And despite the fact that #josephinebaker #dorothydandrige #lenahorn & #earthakitt were all categorized as #burlesque or #pinups of the time, black pinup models in general weren’t as widely distributed or paid as white women of the same time period.
I felt a sense of pride, the bravery it took to be a black woman, sexually free, an exhibitionist during a time of racial disparity and civil unrest, a time when hate crimes against black bodies-Afrikan bodies born in America-born in different parts of the world was as natural as breathing air. To the ones exploited, demeaned, and murdered I lift you up! Your stories deserve to be told. And although we weren’t acknoweledged by our names more so by our frames we were never insignificant and we exist for every reason. We deserve to be upheld triumphantly, free to be sexually empowered and beautiful-valued just as the white women were. How the single encounter at an art show some years back ignited so much more inside of me than simply creating art.
This collection is to honor, not overshadow those black women before me like mama #SartjeBaartman taken from #Afrika to #England and placed in a freak show because of her “disproportionate” body parts. To those that took risks and loved it. To those that loved art and #selfexpression. To the women in these images I thank you for letting me find you. I thank you for giving me cosmic permission to #honor you this way. Through #blackart from my #brown #black hands and beating #heart! To all black women learning of black pinup queen honey bees for the first time know that we were there! We are here now! And we are in the future-#INLIVINGCOLOR!
Thee Amazing Grace