Genius Species: An Art Exhibition About Black Womanhood and Girlhood 

Investigating the cultural, political, social, sexual currency that is Black Womanhood and Girlhood, and the ripple effects of its lived experience(s) across both time and space

Above: Christina Edwards, Red Tide, 2020. acrylic on plexi, 11.5 x 12 in. Courtesy of Ten North Group.

When Curator Anya Wallace conceptualized Genius Species, the new exhibition opening at The Arts & Recreation Center (The ARC) in Opa-Locka, Florida on March 25, she relied on a specific process she calls performance writing, a form of intuitive writing that converts the abstraction of ideas and thoughts into “a traceable format that exists in fluid conversation with visual art forms.” 

A visual artist and scholar herself specializing in Black girlhood and pleasure, Wallace visualized pieces that could interact with each other within the space symbiotically, as if familiar with each other despite never having shared the same space. She wrote down names of the artists she knew and out of that came a shortlist of seven who answered her call. From this process emerged the concept for Genius Species.

Christina Edwards, What if Harriet Had a Twin?, 2017. Encaustic photo transfer on wood, 12in x 12 in. On loan from the collection of Ebony Y. Rhodes. Courtesy of Ten North Group.

Genius Species is a group exhibition on Black feminist thought, a show that explores and honors the existence and effects of Black womanhood. Opening March 25, it joins in the collective celebration of Women’s History Month and showcases the works of Christina Edwards, Dr. Grace Hampton, Ciara Newton, Briana Pizarro, Ebony Y. Rhodes, T. Thompson and Sarah Stefana Smith. The installations will vary in mediums and materials, showcasing netting and rope, wood, feathers, beads, as well as a variety of practices, including painting, drawing or weaving. 

Ciara Newton’s Redbone Swag is a spectacular sculpture marrying an array of materials, including fiberglass, ceramic, feathers, glass, and metal. Newton’s piece is meant to disrupt places of privilege in order to analyze concepts of labor, capital and beauty. Sara Stefana Smith’s Threshold of Dissent No. 3 and 4, on the other hand, are installations made of natural rope and netting. Christina Edwards’ work consists of stunning encaustic photo transfers on wood featuring Black historical figures like Sojourner Truth and Harriett Tubman, inviting the mind to form questions and explore possibilities and dualities. Other works like Dr.Grace Hampton’s Phoenix Rising 1 represent their thoughts on past and present experiences, as well as views of the future. 

Sarah Stefana Smith, Threshold of Dissent No 4, 2023. Thread, natural rope, netting, aluminum, plastic, 72.5in x 26in x 11 in. Courtesy of Ten North Group.

In Wallace’s mind, each of these artists’ works is “made of a Black woman or a Black girl’s thinking–design, aesthetic leanings–and in some way, her likeness.” In all, the works included in this exhibition converse with each other with fluidity, mirroring Anya Wallace’s abstract, which itself was directly influenced by scholars such as Evelyn Hammonds and Toni Morrison and popular icons such as Aretha Franklin and Nicki Minaj. Wallace’s vision was clear: “I’m imagining a space where one engages with 3D work as well as 2D work, stillness and performance, tradition and the future, through paint brush strokes, hand-drawn charcoal lines, photographic print works, sculpture and bling, through the theoretical, the abstract and the figurative.”

This exhibition also benefits from incredible momentum. In addition to launching during the month that celebrates womanhood, it is launching in the active arts community of the rapidly growing city of Opa-Locka. Genius Species will be on view at The ARC, presented by Ten North Group (previously known as the Opa-Locka Community Development Corporation). Ten North Group’s mission, in conjunction with building affordable housing in the area, is to build wealth in under-resourced communities through creative placemaking, actively commissioning public artworks and stewarding an important collection of African and African diaspora modern and contemporary art with over 100 works. 

With this in mind, Wallace is encouraged by the reception of this exhibition by the surrounding community. “I’m looking forward to seeing these artworks in conversation with the Opa-Locka Arts & Recreation Center, as this center is a growing landmark and community resource for the city of Opa-Locka and is a space for innovative cultural production.” 

Genius Species will be on view through May 31, 2023, with a VIP opening reception on March 24. “The show’s works will represent a vast range of experiences connecting the Black woman to what I believe to be the most concentrated understanding of the human experience,” Wallace said. “Across geographies and time(s), from Florida-born to Negress, to Crone, the artists and works of Genius Species have been chosen to facilitate a space for study of upheaval, living, healing and regeneration.”

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