Ashley Ja’nae is a visual artist born and raised in Washington, D.C. She has exhibited her work in New York City, the Washington metropolitan area, and Europe. She uses pen and ink to draw portraits that explore the humanity and experiences of Black American women. Her work focuses on visual texture, rhythm, contrast, space, and the idea of what one can create with limitations. Her collective work functions as a visual safe space while it explores self-acceptance, intersectionality, and the deconstruction of beauty standards.
There’s a fundamental misreading of the mantra “Black girls are magic,” one that implies that sorcery to be tantamount to unreality, that to be both Black and a woman is to exist outside the constraints of flesh and bone. That to be both Black and a woman is to be impenetrable, unable to be pierced by emotion or pain. This is incorrect. The Black woman is no hollow statuette, porous only to absorb the indiscriminate lashings of the world.
The Black woman is real. She matters. You matter.
Ashley’s work seeks to cement this truth, to etch this undeniable ethos into every piece she produces. Her work asserts the wealth and depth of Black women’s feelings, experiences and perspective. Her work makes manifest the contradictory presence and absence of self care and mental wellness in the face of the Black woman’s communal physical and emotional labor.
Through the use of repetitive lines, Ashley ponders the Black women’s history of physical and emotional labor and anguish in America. The small, tedious mark making is created for the viewer to imagine the labor of our past and our present. Black women were the breeders of our current capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist American society. To be a Black American woman is to come to terms with this history. Pain and struggle is part of our history as well as power, resistance, and resilience. Ashley encourages the viewer to imagine the work that is required to fully realize these figures, portraits of Black women who are self assured, vulnerable, and whole.
Themes covered in Ashley’s artwork are influenced by bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Woman in America, and other Black Feminist texts. Her work is political. It sits in opposition to systemic oppression and the disquieting tendency for society to sweep inconvenient facts under ornate rugs, hoping no one notices the centuries of pain clawing out from under intricately woven patterns.
This work lives in a world where to exist as a Black woman is a revolutionary act, speaking nourishment to Black women in the same breath as truth to ill placed power. More than a document of struggle and triumph, her work is a celebration of Black women’s beauty and the dichotomy between the necessity of hiding and the rapture of being seen.