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Her Stories: Artist and Poet Mahogany Jones on Her #NotUrAssumptions Project

DETROIT—We know the adage that “a picture speaks a thousand words” but I am not sure if we consider how many volumes are spoken in relation to the images we don’t see. Growing up in the U.S., I always saw images of women in roles that were flat and one dimensional: submissive housewives, seductive mistresses, docile secretaries or domineering executives. But rarely did I see women and girls portrayed in society in ways that show off our many layers and dimensions. I didn’t see images of women being powerful without being overbearing or gentle without seeming gullible or weak. The lack of images representing women as multi-dimensional beings over the years left me feeling out of place because I am a woman who can be both gentle and assertive, docile and domineering.

My name is Mahogany Jones, I am an entertainer, educator and director of a non-profit aPUREmovement. I record and release albums, teach poetry, performance, and songwriting, and represent HipHop culture globally on behalf of the US State Department, and I have recently launched my non-profit aPUREmovement in efforts to change the conversation in regards to how society normalizes the limiting and objectification of women.

In February 2017 my small team for aPUREmovement– myself, Ronald Lee of What’s The Irony, Jayne Marie Smith, and consulting firm Verzatyle Entertainment, huddled up and decided that we wanted to create a space where women could be represented in all our strata in an effort to change a conversation we felt was not loud enough in the United States.

We began to ask women from all walks of life to submit images of themselves and attach a caption that spoke to how they have overcome gender bias and shattered the assumptions made by others about their tendencies, capabilities, and or lack thereof as women.

During my time off from touring and prep periods between teaching classes, I created memes and posted them on social media, and I asked friends and the subjects of the memes to share them with others with the hashtag #noturassumptions. My co-founder and co-director of aPUREmovement, Jayne Marie made the observation earlier this year that since my newly acquired hobby had been photography, in 2018 I should shoot those images and invite my women friends who are photographers and visual artists to assist me on this project that is close to my heart. We timed an art exhibition of the images we’ve shared of the past year to coincide with Women’s History month as well as International Women’s Day.

What had started as a living room fireside chat with my best friend last year— where we casually pontificated and extolled the virtues of our many empowered female friends, colleagues and role models—slowly and organically evolved into a full-blown campaign to highlight and harness the power of women. The way the campaign has come to life has been a testament to sisterhood. Mandisa Smith, who owns and runs Detroit Fiber Works, in-kind donated her space and assisted in curating the invited artists while Detroit-based filmmaker, visual artist, and activist Nancy Rodwan assisted by inviting business owners to participate in the other portion of the campaign “#NotUrAssumptions : Reflections of Beauty and Resilience” by having them display some of the images in other women-owned businesses in order for the public to support both the artist and the locally-owned business.

The exhibition is the first time I’m showcasing my work as a photographer, along with brilliant photographers including Jenny Rischer, whose exhibition on Detroit Hip Hop ”Dcyphered” was recently featured in the Detroit Institute of Art Museum;  famed fashion photographer and community activist, Piper Carter;  Anahli Vasquez, whose work is currently in the Smithsonian;  Nancy Rodwan, along with renown visual artist Sabrina Nelson;  Judy Bowman and Tisch Mikhail Lewis. In total, the exhibition is showcasing 20 photographers and visual artist who are mostly women here in the Detroit area. The subjects include great women like Terry Blackhawk, educator and poet who founded the 20 year literary arts organization, Inside-Out, to former New York Times journalist Nichole Christian’s aging grandmother.

The online portion of the campaign has featured women from all across the globe. This is the first year for the art exhibition portion- we are hoping to have to travel, and next year to accept national and international submissions.

It has been great to see people share the images online, to get phone calls and inbox emails of women who would like to be featured, and suggestions for who I should feature next. Everywhere I go when I see women moving in spaces where they normally aren’t expected, my camera trigger fingers start twitching. The most difficult thing about this campaign for me has been to stop capturing images and create the memes. I have been overwhelmed with inspiration and humbled that so many would join my cause and contribute their crafts, time, energy, and voices to shatter the limiting assumptions superimposed on women.

My hope is that people will continue to spread the campaign online by sharing the images or posting images of their own with the hashtag #noturassumptions and that local Detroiters (and those who are willing to hop on a plane), will join us opening night on March 28th at 6 p.m. at Detroit Fiber Works to share music, refreshments and conversations with the artists and subjects. Let’s reinforce that as women we are more than societies’ assumptions.

 

Mahogany Jones is an international hip hop soul recording artist, arts educator, U.S. musical ambassador and United Way brand ambassador who is based in Detroit. ”Not Your Assumptions: Reflections of Beauty and Resilience” will is at Detroit Fiber Works from March 28 to April 28. 


Photos: 1)  Mahogany Jones; 2) photo by Charyse Bailey;3) Photo by Biba Bell;

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