Maya Angelou, Josephine Baker and Lorraine Hansberry are just a few of the women of color featured in Firelei Baez’s “Joy Out of Fire” exhibit saluting Afro-Caribbean / Afro-Latina women at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. The exhibit was created by Baez and a partnership with the Studio Museum Harlem organized by Hallie Ringle, Assistant Curator.
The exhibit, which took months for Baez to create, is a room filled with Acrylic on Canvas paintings, archived handwritten letters and photographs, all hand selected by Baez to create an artistic view of afro-caribbean women’s history.
The handwritten letters between women are among the most notable pieces in the exhibit. A letter is on display written by playwright Shirley Graham Du Bois (Wife of activist W.E.B. Du Bois) to Lorraine Hansberry (author/ playwright of “A Raisin in the Sun”).
Du Bois starts the letter with “I am writing you myself, just to tell you how proud I am of You!” The letter goes on to talk about Hansberry’s support of causes and how she conducts herself as an artist and a person.
The theme of women supporting women and empowerment is strong throughout “Joy Out of Fire”. There’s also great mention of the accomplishments and triumphs of people of color both before and after the civil rights movement. The women featured made history with creative works and activism. There are friendships between famous women of color are highlighted through the letters and cards they wrote to each other.
One notable card is from famed poet Maya Angelou to award winning singer Roberta Flack. The card, written in 1988, is smart, funny and kind. It was the kind of letter you write to a friend just to let them know you’re thinking about them. Angelou was known for her friendships and mentoring with famous black women and women of color including Oprah.
The archived photography serves as a history lesson for women of color. Among notable photos is African-American pilot and flight instructor Ida Van Smith. She is standing in a room at NASA. Smith pursued her aviation interests and learned to fly at age 50.
Another photograph includes Sadie Delaney, the former chief librarian of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. Delaney is known for helping launch one of the first African American Art exhibits at the New York Public Library and her work with bibliotherapy.
Another highlight from the “Joy Out of Fire” exhibit are handwritten notes from cabaret singer and dancer Florence Mills “I’m a little black bird”. Other highlights include a photo of Pearl Bailey in “Hello Dolly” Bailey also wrote a letter to Angelou.
The exhibit “Joy Out of Fire” offers a history lesson for women of color in the arts and a source of inspiration since the stories are diverse in the type of woman and her craft. I definitely recommend this exhibit for all to see especially women and young ladies of color. Baez does a great job paying homage to Afro-Caribbean / Afro-Latina women and making sure the legacy of these women remain alive and relevant today. The exhibit runs through November 2018.