In this episode, we dive into a conversation with Takeisha Jefferson. Jefferson is a Michigan native and a seasoned portrait photographer who has a passion for art history. Her subjects frequently include her family, and her oeuvre also touches on themes of Black womanhood and empowerment.
Her photographic storytelling has earned her a feature on Google Arts and Culture and a spotlight in Aida Amoaka’s book As We See It: Artists Reshaping Black Identity, which showcases 30 black artists from around the world. As a disabled veteran, wife, and mother of four, Takeisha brings a wealth of life experience and insight into her art practice.
In this episode, we talk about:
- The importance of narrative representation and advocacy
- The power of the image
- The gaze
- How to advocate for Black women artists
- Takeisha Jefferson
- Awards & Affiliations
- Nominated – Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2021 – Wetzlar, Germany
- Committee Member – My Sisters and Me Women of Color Photographers
- Member – Women of Color Unite
- Member – Detriot Fine Arts Breakfast Club
- Member – Women’s Caucus for Art
- Awards & Affiliations
- Jassmine Parks
- Referenced Works
Michaela Ayers: Hello there and welcome to Black Her Stories. Where we tap into the lineage of black women artists who inspire us and shape our stories. Join us for nourishing conversations that center the lived experiences of black women, past and present. Together we’ll explore what possibilities exist when creativity meets history. When we harness our creative power to unlock our purpose. I am your host, Michaela Ayers.
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are, however you are arriving. I am so glad that you’re here. In the spirit of expansion and experimentation, I’ve been floating through the river of time. Observing how its current moves fast and slow. Recognizing how this construct is both individual and societal.
As I’ve gotten older, I recognize that my relationship with time shifted when I started living in more conscious alignment with my creative spirit.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still find myself running a little late or wishing I had more time at the end of the day, and I’ve been learning to trust, I’ve been learning to trust in divine timing, which requires a certain amount of surrender, spontaneity, and letting go.
To me, divine timing is expressed through Chance Encounters, strange coincidences, and little kisses with kismet. These spirited moments can transform our personal timelines and reveal pathways to new possibilities.
The fluid nature of time and timelessness informs my conversation with Takeisha Jefferson.
Takeisha Jefferson is a Michigan native and seasoned portrait photographer. After receiving her first camera at the age of nine, Takeisha pursued self-directed study in photography and later utilized the skill as a military journalist.
Following her time in the Air Force, Takeisha established a successful portrait photography business, and later pursued a fine arts degree at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was there that she expanded upon her birthright series and discovered a passion for art history.
A woman after my own heart.
Takeisha’s photographic storytelling has earned her a feature on Google Arts and Culture and a spotlight on Aida Amoako’s book Artist Reshaping Black Identity, which showcases 30 black artists from around the world.
There are so many divine connections between her work and my intentions for Black Her Stories, and so it is truly an honor to have her on as a pre-season guest.
And so without further do, let’s dive into my conversation with Takeisha Jefferson.
Michaela Ayers: Black History Month is my favorite time of year, and so I’ve been doing my pre-Black History Month preparation
Michaela Ayers: Which for me looks like watching PBS documentaries and like going to the library and just like immersing myself and stories that I hadn’t heard or are not familiar. Like the night before I watched Zora Neil Hurston’s documentary on PBS and you know she has the name that I’m familiar with, but I didn’t really know the kind of details of her story.
Michaela Ayers: It was just kind of like a rough sketch. I’ve read Their Eyes Are Watching God, you know, I’ve. I’ve definitely seen her image and been like, that’s a powerful person. But then to watch her story and see more in depth — the length that she went to, to capture black stories and be a cultural anthropologist for black people, it really inspired me in terms of thinking about this project for me.
Michaela Ayers: And that connection to her and thinking of myself as what I wrote down was an artful anthropologist, because I’m interested in specifically how black women transmute their experiences into art and how does that connect to other black women artists who had that same experience.
Michaela Ayers: how does that connect to other ancestors? And so that is the energy and the curiosity that lies underneath the surface for me, when it comes to these interviews and this experience and wanting to create a quilt , you know, in terms of the uniqueness and the cultural production of black women.
Michaela Ayers: So I’m really excited to invite you into this conversation. So would you please share who you are and what you’re about?
Takeisha Jefferson: So my name is Takeisha Jefferson. I am 45. I am a fine art artist. Normally I would call myself a fine art photographer, but more recently I’ve really leaned into understanding that I’m more than a photographer.
Takeisha Jefferson: I feel like I’m constantly protesting. So I live in this space where I feel that is what I need to do. That is the purpose of my work.
Takeisha Jefferson: It’s narrative representation and advocacy. Some people are like, oh, you just can take pretty pictures. I’m like, but for me personally, I feel like I have to do more than just take pretty pictures. The intent that goes behind what I’m doing, even with landscape, I’d probably find a way to advocate through what the landscape was to be able to talk about it.
Takeisha Jefferson: Because I do have the opportunity in a quiet space to be very loud. I don’t even have to be there. The person comes up, they see the work. You know, if there is an artist statement that can be drawn in, to be able to have a conversation that doesn’t require me to always be physically there so that I think that wraps up just a little bit of who I am.
Takeisha Jefferson: As an artist and what my intentions are behind it.
Michaela Ayers: Well you, you’re giving me so many things I wanna sink my teeth into, but, because you mentioned like one aspect of your identity or several, but you mentioned age, I’m wondering if, cuz we have listeners of course who aren’t here and I’d love to give them, kind of visual of what you look like.
Michaela Ayers: So could you describe, for people who are listening, like if they were to try and recognize you on the street, how would they know it was you?
Takeisha Jefferson: So I have, I would call them faux blocks. They’re really twists that I keep in for a very long time. . And it’s so funny because I have twists, I have, uh, these wisdom hairs that are growing
Michaela Ayers: Yes.
Takeisha Jefferson: At the borderline and the center of, um, my, part of the middle of my head. I would like to say though, when I was younger there was this woman who I felt like had the skunk gray line in her hair and I was like, I want that, I want that. I claimed it. It arrives. So be careful of what you put into the atmosphere
Takeisha Jefferson: facts.
Takeisha Jefferson: Cause it arrived and it arrived early and I am ashamed to know that I asked for it. So I, there’s nothing I can do about it. Cuz I asked for this with my whole heart. I am, you know, a little thick, almost. I’m a mother of four. I feel like, my disposition is for the most part you’d see me happy.
Takeisha Jefferson: You’d see a woman smiling. You’d see a woman, you know, looking like maybe she had somewhere to go. Like, you know, I’m normally like not standing as peaceful. It’s like, oh, excuse me. Hi Happy to see you. But, no, that’s it. I consider myself peanut butter. So if you’re looking for skin complexion, I come from a light-skinned family.
Takeisha Jefferson: So it took me a while to accept where I was on the color spectrum. I wasn’t sure. I thought I was dark skin. . But then, some dark-skinned people told me that I was not. So my children have told me that I am peanut butter. So the peanut butter woman with the locks that you’re gonna compliment because you believe that they’re real
Takeisha Jefferson: But right here, I told you guys
Takeisha Jefferson: the truth.
Michaela Ayers: You get the hot takes here. Hot takes here. Well ,thank you for helping us recognize you on the street. I appreciate that and I wanna get to know you more. And I think one of the things that was attracted to me, I mean there’s so many things about your story that I find interesting, but your connection as a military journalist, and so I was curious about how does that identity inform your identity as a photographer.
Takeisha Jefferson: So I joined the military early. I was like 19 years old. I was a public relations specialist, but the job that I did mainly was work for the base paper. With the military, the way that I had to take pictures was very restricted.
Takeisha Jefferson: Like if you take a picture of a person and there’s a tree behind their head, you can’t take the tree out of the picture. You can’t Photoshop that out. So you had to be very cognizant when you’re photographing to make sure that everything that you wanted in that picture was in it because you could not manipulate the image.
Takeisha Jefferson: And so I was learning to take pictures and I remember one of my supervisors having an issue with my work and. I was just clicking the shutter. I really, I thought I liked it, but I really didn’t. So one day he told me I could take the camera home. It was a Nikon F4, and he told me I could take the camera home and practice.
Takeisha Jefferson: And so I started taking pictures of my friends. We were doing full on photo shoots and you’d have to go, you know, put the role in, you’re using film, getting the pictures printed. And my supervisor saw the picture. He was like, who is this photographer who took that? Mm-hmm. Like, it’s me. I’m like, but I can’t do this here.
Takeisha Jefferson: I can’t take them like this. But I, we were in like a construction site. Like that’s definitely the beginning of me using anything that I can have access to, to do a shoot. I started to find myself more there during my personal time with the camera versus what we could do at work in my office.
Takeisha Jefferson: I was the only black woman in my building. I was the only black enlisted person. And so that was something that was really brought to my attention. I wanna say some of my earliest advocacy, for the base paper, we had a person of the week, and so I decided that would be four people a month.
Takeisha Jefferson: Mainly that I would do a different person, like a different race every week. So it’d never be the same race back to back. And I’d do a different sex every week. So it was male, female, male, female, male, female. And then it would be, black, Asian, you know. And so one day my super pulled me to the side, he says, but is that the makeup of the Air force?
Takeisha Jefferson: But he’s like, he saw what I was doing and found a way to wanna attack it. That like, maybe I was showing black people too much because we were only 13%. So really should there be a black person once a month shown? It was just interesting to me that, that’s where it was. A white male found credence and he told me right before I got out the military,
Takeisha Jefferson: He was telling me that I had a couple things going against me. One that I was a woman and two that I was black and that was gonna be an issue for me. He didn’t say it as a negative. Please understand. He was pulling me to the side to encourage me, if I wanted to change career fields.
Takeisha Jefferson: My husband and I have tried to research, it looks like I may have been the first black female PA in the Air Force. We haven’t found anyone before me, so that would’ve been 96. But just to be in that space where people of color really weren’t seen as much.
Takeisha Jefferson: And even then there was a sisterhood because there was a black woman commander. over at the, uh, security Forces building, which would be like the police office.
Takeisha Jefferson: The police station. She came into the office to cover me once. Like she saw me knowing that I was the only black enlisted person. She’s an officer and she covered me for a very long time. The fact that she sought me out and was like, I got you and I’m gonna make sure you cover. Mm. Um, and so I feel like even as we move forward in this community, as artists, connecting, covering, sharing, protecting,
Takeisha Jefferson: inviting is important for what we do.
Michaela Ayers: Well, there’s so many things in there and I appreciate hearing about how your lens as a you know a black woman in that position, recognizing that you are the only, but also recognizing that you had some power through the lens to represent diversity and how that was not celebrated or encouraged.
Takeisha Jefferson: Right.
Michaela Ayers: And yet you found your way and so how does that tie into the work that you create in terms of your photography practice?
Takeisha Jefferson: I feel like now I realize as one person I needed to make a clear focus, right? So where I could still be photographing everyone. When it comes to my exhibition work, I really chose to focus on black women.
Takeisha Jefferson: People will come up to me and say, Hey, what about black men? I will photograph them as well, but that’s not my charge right now. And it’s okay that this is my main focus right now because I feel there may be a black man that can take the charge of that and it could be someone else. You know what I mean?
Takeisha Jefferson: But for me, I have to really focus so I can give the most to the story that I’m trying to tell or the absence of the story being told. you know, from people who love the people they’re talking about. And so I started with my children. I saw Sally Mann, photographing her children.
Takeisha Jefferson: I was like, well, I can photograph mine too. And I had been photographing mine, but not so much storytelling. I was documenting them, but I’m like, there’s a bigger story here I can tell in the way that we present. I remember seeing a photographer taking pictures of little white girls in these like printed dresses.
Takeisha Jefferson: And I was like, I’ll never really say to little black girls not, not at a certain demographic having pictures taken to them in these pretty dresses, you know, a little bit more affluent. They have access . But I was like, Hmm. So I start finding thrifted little pretty dress. I’m like, I’m gonna photograph all the, the black girls I see
Takeisha Jefferson: I was definitely a first. The energy was more tit for tat, like I could do it too. Hmm. , you know, and I can find a way. And then I didn’t charge extra for the dress. I’m like, no, no girl. You don’t have, you don’t have a dress. I got one for you. We don’t even need shoes for the picture babes.
Takeisha Jefferson: So we would do that to now, to this day, I have a complete wardrobe of clothing. My clients do not have to have a piece of clothing to feel regal. I will, I will wrap you in drapes. You understand what I’m saying? Like, but I have clothing. Um, I have so much clothing. It would fill a two-car garage of gowns, wedding dresses.
Takeisha Jefferson: So I can give people access to experiences, access to just humanity.
Takeisha Jefferson: So that’s where I’m lending now, capturing black women just in their pure essence.
Michaela Ayers: I would love to experiment with you because I know you have a couple pieces here mm-hmm. and just to paint a picture for people who are listening
Michaela Ayers: What does your work look like? So could we, can we look at one and then get a description of the texture. All right. So we can pull, let’s just, whatever one you feel is like a good embodiment of your work.
Takeisha Jefferson: I think this one works here. The way that I would describe it is, let’s start with Mona Lisa, cuz that’s something that people can think of.
Takeisha Jefferson: Her posture. But now her name is Lele. That’s my daughter’s name and she’s facing forward almost as Mona Lisa, but her head’s tilted down just a bit. Just I’m very cognizant of not having the head down too far, just because again, I’m wanting to honor black women.
Takeisha Jefferson: So our heads kind of more inquisitive, like, did you say? . She’s looking dead at you. So, you’re having a conversation with her, so if you’re looking at the image, she’s looking at you. This is one of the pieces that when I create, I’m able to create them quickly.
Takeisha Jefferson: My daughter is wrapped in two scarfs. She’s a scarf that I’ve tied around her shoulders, to have her shoulders revealed. You see her neck. And then I’ve laid a scarf across her head to the side so it’s not hanging, to the left and the right. It’s kitty corner hanging down, but you see all of her face.
Takeisha Jefferson: And I love it. The lights hitting her nose underneath her eyes, and she’s really inviting you in. And I’d almost say again, if you go back to the posturing of Mona Lisa, tilt her head down. She’s a black woman now and she’s wanting to hear what you have to say. Mm-hmm. . That is what I would lean this piece to be like.
Takeisha Jefferson: She’s open to listen.
Michaela Ayers: I like the tether of Mona Lisa as something that we can hold onto in terms of a portrait. And also the position of the body and like the openness but also the blackness. Yes. Like the undeniable blackness of this person.
Takeisha Jefferson: Very much so.
Michaela Ayers: And I also feel like there’s this really beautiful texture to your work, in terms of the techniques that you used. So could you share a little bit about that?
Takeisha Jefferson: So that will be what I call like the breakdown, the distressing. I love my work to look like. You found it in your attic, in your closet.
Takeisha Jefferson: It was like your grandma’s grandma’s picture. So I’ll do things sometimes digitally, but I will go in and pour tea over a print. I don’t scratch my prints as much anymore because some people don’t like that . I do. I’m like but that’s part of the breakdown of the image because what I’m doing through the distressing of the work is really talking about the challenges that we deal with.
Takeisha Jefferson: So whether you see lines and cracks and fractions of the piece missing, that’s just what I’m saying, what we have access to and what’s been taking away from us. Again, when, if even if I put up a photo that is in preceding condition and it’s a black woman. Many viewers scratch us up just when they look at us.
Takeisha Jefferson: There’s no innocence Even to a five year old black girl. It’s stripped. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the image is. So what I do is I present these women adorned with veils and I’ve already scratched it, but the way, because I’ve scratched it or distrusted it the way that I have, tea stained it, there’s a regalness that comes to it.
Takeisha Jefferson: And they can’t scratch it up. I already scratched it. Right. So it, there’s a way when they want to and they’re like, this is actually beautiful. It was always beautiful. So I take their ability to scratch it away. And it’s so weird cuz even when I worked print, I have to tell people the scratchers were supposed to be there.
Takeisha Jefferson: It just gives a beauty to it because again, I feel like my subject is fighting through the scratches.
Takeisha Jefferson: Like, I’m here, you guys can keep throwing everything at me. I mean, not that I, not that I live waking up wanting to be resilient. I don’t, sometimes I wanna rest, but I understand when I’m stepping out into this world, what I’m stepping into.
Michaela Ayers: Right.
Michaela Ayers: I appreciate hearing about the intentionality behind the process, and I definitely see how it relates to what you shared in terms of your supervisor pulling you aside to say what’s holding you back is your blackness and the fact that you’re a woman.
Michaela Ayers: I guess that’s leading me back to thinking about your work and imagining your women in different places and also how the styling of them feel timeless. And I wondered if you could share more about that in terms of the art historical narrative, because you were like, you know, you inserted Mona Lisa from the jump.
Michaela Ayers: Right. You know, so it’s like how and in what way do you see your photos showing up in that arc of art history?
Takeisha Jefferson: I feel like I’m forcing my work. Like I wanna challenge the can of art just, just in general with the body of work that I’m putting out. So I’m late go to college or Right.
Takeisha Jefferson: My kids are in high school and junior high when I went. I was tired of people like, you don’t have your degree, you didn’t go to school. You’re self-taught. I’m like, okay, yes I am, but whatever. Let me go see what the scholarship thing’s about. I’m grateful. I did fall in love with art history.
Takeisha Jefferson: I do think because I went later, I was able to hold on to things that were me and I wasn’t as, I feel like impressionable to be changed. I saw, I did again advocate like, no, this is what really what I want to do. But sitting in art history, wanting to, there was just an absence of me seeing people of color.
Takeisha Jefferson: We’re learning about so many people in the world, and I’m like, where are we outside of these depictions of some enslaved to people? Like, I’m not really seeing this in the Rederick Douglass, which I was appreciative because he has a paper, I think it’s called Perfect People or something . It’s basically where he talks about, the importance of imagery of black people.
Takeisha Jefferson: It pushed me because he talked about why he took photographs the way he did of his self, the intention behind it. And that sometimes people were only seeing himself being the representation, right? So I was like, whoa, okay. Like I can take this and run with it. I’m trying to acquire space through the photographs that I’m taking, the way, with the wardrobe that I’m choosing in spaces where people might not have been as inclined to have a speed, right?
Takeisha Jefferson: I want to acquire space in places where there’s a young black girl or a young black boy or a grown person walking in where they can see themselves and they can see like someone that looks like them and they go, whoa. Yes. Like right now I have over 24 pieces at the U of M on their main corridor headed towards the cafeteria.
Takeisha Jefferson: And I am grateful to know that people are walking by and there’s black people walking by going 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and they’re count 24 pictures of black people all together. Amazing. Like this honoring here for us. To see just what that will give someone to see in a space. And it’s, it’s small, right? But it’s really big. So, I’m hopeful that when people see these black and white images, these pictures that look like they were taking in the mid to, you know, late 18 hundreds, that it will compete almost with the other imagery that she’s been forced on us.
Takeisha Jefferson: I’m not for taking images away, I just know that we were more than slaves, were more than pictures of us beaten and lashed.
Michaela Ayers: Yes.
Takeisha Jefferson: We had times even during our struggles where we were loving, the people that we were with, you know, our family and our new family, cuz you know, they talk about the moms who became mothers to others.
Takeisha Jefferson: And so if we could have captured our small minute moments of happiness with each other, what would that have looked like? And so that’s what I want to honor and play tribute with. So I’m always trying to make sure that the wardrobe doesn’t overpower the subject.
Takeisha Jefferson: So you can really tune in to their eyes, to their face, to their peace.
Michaela Ayers: Wow. Well there’s so many things in your share. And I think the thing that strikes me most is just the power of the image. And I think that’s something that I’ve known about as a fellow art historian,
Michaela Ayers: That’s what I got my degree in and had a very similar experience to you in terms of recognizing, like, I don’t see, I’m only seeing one type of story. Mm-hmm. , and it’s very European and it’s very male. And it’s very heterosexual.
Takeisha Jefferson: Very, and you know, just like, or allegedly.
Michaela Ayers: Right. Allegedly it’s like very dominant in a certain type of way and feeling really dissatisfied.
Michaela Ayers: Feeling invisible and Yeah. That so, and hurt like on a psychic level in terms of only seeing people who look like me enslaved, only seeing people like me being brutalized, you know, and just what it’s trauma. It’s trauma. It, it’s, it’s, it’s absolutely that. And I guess what I is coming up is I see your work as a rewiring of that to say we don’t have to accept that there’s a way for us to reimagine representation for black women. And just that. using that power, the power of the camera, the power of your photography skills and lens to offer an alternative narrative. And I just think that is so beautiful and so much of the intention of Black her stories is, is that in terms of like black women’s stories
Michaela Ayers: ones that we don’t often get to hear the ones that are often erased or misrepresented, and wanting to give black women a chance to tell it themselves.
Michaela Ayers: And I’m curious like in the cannon of artists that inspire you, if you could tie a thread between your work and another black woman, like who might that woman be?
Takeisha Jefferson: I love Carrie Mae Weems. Of course. Um, you said black woman. So I had to pull one back Dr. Deborah Willis. Love her work.
Takeisha Jefferson: I wanna say those were foundational for me. At my school they weren’t teaching about black, um, people really, I mean, we heard about Gordon Parks for a second. There was one image of a man coming out of a sewer. We talked about. But then we kind of moved on.
Takeisha Jefferson: So I took an independent study where I crafted a class for myself and I studied Carman, Liam’s doctor, uh, Deb and Gordon Parks. But I was like, if you won’t, I will. And so that’s how I was able during my collegiate practice, which is sad that I had to do an independent study that I had to craft myself.
Takeisha Jefferson: I created my whole thing and my teacher approved it. So I could learn about them and just the way that they decided to tell the stories during the time that they did it, even though they’re still practicing now, still, teaching. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Deborah, and Facebook friends with.
Takeisha Jefferson: Carrie Mae Weems, nothing. Hey, we’ve never talked, but we are friends. , that count . So, um, just her storytelling and her resilience then to just go against the grain. Mm-hmm. , uh, her, uh, kitchen table series. Just going and telling that story.
Michaela Ayers: I’m gonna jump in on Carrie Mae Weems, cuz I am more familiar with their work, and I’ll have to look up the other person that you mentioned.
Michaela Ayers: But yeah, the kitchen table series.
Michaela Ayers: I find it just such a beautiful meditation on black women and like the complexity of our lives, you know, and the fact that it happens in a kitchen and, just like all of the layers to it. I see that in your work, in terms of the visual storytelling that is taking place and the different kind of meaning that you’re like inviting your viewer to make in terms of the advocacy.
Michaela Ayers: And so I wondered if we could talk a little bit more about advocacy and what that looks like for you, in your practice, but also just thinking about how you show up in the world.
Takeisha Jefferson: Understood. I’m a protestor, right? So much so that my old car had protest signs in the back, ready to go cardboard.
Takeisha Jefferson: So I’m like, are we going? Are we ready?
Takeisha Jefferson: So I realized doing the work that I do, that the way that I could advocate is through representation.
Takeisha Jefferson: Right? And again, even the way that I’m presenting and depicting my subjects. So I’m very intentional. So even in, when I talk about a chin line or the eyes, I go back to a time when black people could not look people in the eyes. So I make sure that in most of my images, my subject’s eyes are looking straightforward.
Takeisha Jefferson: Sometimes I’m intentional to where they’re either looking to the left or the right. But even for that, I feel like I’m forcing the viewer to engage, wondering what they’re looking at. So I’m forcing this conversation, this thought process. Like what are they looking at, what they’re thinking.
Takeisha Jefferson: Even just the activity of what I’m hoping the viewer does when they get to my work is my advocacy.
Michaela Ayers: Yeah. I see the layers there. In terms of like, one, the way that you pose the models in terms of looking directly at the viewer, but also in terms of the environment where those photos will be, there’s an advocacy in terms of how big these photos are.
Michaela Ayers: Where they’re positioned, how the viewer is going. Looking at them and I think it’s a very subtle way to play with power, which is I think what black women have had to do. So it’s interesting to see and hear that in your work. And I think to me there’s something so playful about that, in terms of your practice.
Takeisha Jefferson: Even like the chin up though it’s something that people start to notice very quickly that I have the chin line stay normally at a 90 degree angle and the people who aren’t accustomed to it makes them uncomfortable. There’s three poses that’s standard for me.
Takeisha Jefferson: When I’m working with people who aren’t my children, I’ll tell them 90 degree is power. I said, so go back. I want you to look at your pictures and see where your chin was, especially when you’re in a group of people. I said, but now when you’re in a picture with a group of people, look at whose chin line’s higher than yours.
Takeisha Jefferson: Now don’t get me wrong, some people just pitch their chin up. But you have to be very careful of how high your chin gets up because it’s like beyond just regular confidence.
Takeisha Jefferson: But then there’s a chin down a little bit and there’s an innocence that comes when the chin goes down just a bit. And so again, intention in the chin placement. But I always find it funny when people start going back to look through their pictures to go, hold on.
Takeisha Jefferson: I’m like, look at the hierarchy and unless everybody’s doing a head tilt, watch whose chin and where they place it. So you should be mindful of your presence. To have the authority to execute that power, through their like, no, look at me. I’m here. I’m seen.
Takeisha Jefferson: See me. That’s what most of my work says. See me. Or the ignore. So the look away from me is nine times outta 10. I’m having my subject ignore the viewer.
Michaela Ayers: Why is that?
Takeisha Jefferson: Because I want them to feel like, again, what’s going on in their head, what’s going on? But you don’t get to know outside of my title, outside of, possibly my artist statement, which normally will give you like one is titled just a warning.
Takeisha Jefferson: And so you look like who is she warning? And she’s looking over here, is she telling me to look out from over here, or is she not talking to me again? You don’t get to tell the piece to look at you. You have no control. Normally, my piece isn’t a space where it may be one or a minority of black works, right?
Takeisha Jefferson: So normally my viewer is not black, so the intention goes there.
Michaela Ayers: I relate to it so much. I guess I’m like, what you were sharing around the gaze and the intentional gaze, looking directly at or averting. And in my experience, oftentimes in predominantly white spaces, people wouldn’t meet my gaze.
Michaela Ayers: And that awareness that there’s something in our interaction where that seems to make them uncomfortable. And recognizing that it’s my blackness. Right, there’s a quick look away too. It’s a very quick look away. Yeah. And I recognize that immediately.
Michaela Ayers: And so I imagine in these spaces where your pieces are and exist over a long period of time, just how that begins to wear away at that bias. And the energy that you are bringing to spaces with your advocacy, just by nature of how you create your work.
Michaela Ayers: And so I wanna talk about this beautiful thing that you put together in terms of ways that people can advocate for black women artists.
Takeisha Jefferson: Yes.
Michaela Ayers: Because I think that’s something that, even as a black woman, I can learn more about. I think there’s this assumption that as black people we just automatically know.
Michaela Ayers: And that’s not always the case. And so, if we could just jump in on, you know, of these things that you have here, where would a listener start, to say, you know what? I love supporting black women, but I don’t know what that looks like in action when it comes to supporting their work or their livelihood.
Takeisha Jefferson: I would say the easiest thing to do would be to share their work. Just to share it. I mean, you’re talking about Black History Month and preparing for that, I get just as excited like tip search hashtags. This is the best time of the year to search Black History Month or Black History month 2022-2023.
Takeisha Jefferson: You’ll find out things that you didn’t know. This is when I’m like calling for information. Who is this person? I didn’t know about it. Whether you’re on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, put it in the hashtag and search. But share and share. And then put some hashtags so they’ll be findable of what you’re sharing.
Takeisha Jefferson: Share a black artist on your Instagram. If you don’t wanna, if you, let’s say you don’t wanna, say quote unquote mess up your Instagram feed per se. Share them in your story, tag them. You could share a black woman once a week. Takes you a couple seconds and you just share. Go through when you’re seeing something.
Takeisha Jefferson: Maybe someone in your circle will be interested and follow. You know, a follow would be great too, but the sharing of the work. More people share, more people see.
Takeisha Jefferson: You know, everybody doesn’t have the finances to maybe collect and buy. You can show up to the galleries, the exhibitions and things like that.
Takeisha Jefferson: You can also call and say you’re looking to see more work like that matters. But again, the easiest way is just to share. their work. They don’t even have to know you. You just go to their page and go, oh, look at this. A comment alike.
Takeisha Jefferson: I love your work. This is beautiful. Or be more specific. I love this scar, the way you painted this scarf. This is wonderful. Just so they know that they’re being seen.
Michaela Ayers: I guess to reflect back, it’s like that is something, you know, we’re on our phones are in our pockets, in our bags all the time.
Michaela Ayers: And so if you’re, if you find yourself in a scroll mode, put some energy behind, like, let me see who’s around in terms of a black woman artist who I can lift up and share their work and tag.
Michaela Ayers: Just allowing your audience to follow those same breadcrumbs and it maybe encourage that same kind of behavior.
Michaela Ayers: And then, to take that one step further of the gallery spaces, of the art spaces you go to. Can you think like a detective in terms of how can I see more black art in this space? Who do I have to talk to or you know, kind of agitate around in terms of starting to see the representation that you want in the spaces where you are showing up.
Takeisha Jefferson: Righ and you can do it with love. So let’s say the museum has an Instagram page. You could tag, you guys should check out this artist. I’m not saying bombard the page with it, but you just start putting a link. You could send ’em a message. send ’em an email. They have the chat boxes or whatever.
Takeisha Jefferson: Send an email and say, I really think you, especially if it’s a local artist. I really think you should take a look at this artist work if you find the work to be something deserving of being in that space. But again, just a simple share.
Michaela Ayers: I appreciate this cuz it feels like, you know, uh, low key protest.
Michaela Ayers: A way that is like very intentional in terms of something that we’re already doing. We’re already digesting social media in some capacity and some, frequency. And so blending this into your practice, it’s like just building that muscle and something that you can grow over time.
Michaela Ayers: And then, I’m gonna use the word ally, the kind of invisible ally that you can be to a black woman artist by sharing, tagging, making it easy for them to be seen. Like that is something that can bring so much energy to their work, whether that’s patrons, collectors, museums, whatever that resource is.
Michaela Ayers: That is in your audience or in your network. Right. You know, that is access. And so there’s a lot of power in something that simple.
Takeisha Jefferson: Very much so. And again, I don’t wanna force people to think that they have to dedicate one person, but just doing it once, it matters to someone.
Michaela Ayers: Yes. Wow. Well, I’m holding onto that and then I will definitely share this list. In terms of some more kind of things that people can do, thinking about advocating for black women artists.
Michaela Ayers: As we’re coming to the end of this space. At least, the question that’s coming up for me is, yeah. Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about today that you really wanna be sure that we do?
Takeisha Jefferson: I would say for artists, just do what you’re passionate about. Make time for it. If you can’t do it full-time and you have a love or a passion for it, make some time for it.
Takeisha Jefferson: It will feed you. And I’m not saying monetarily, but it’ll feed your soul. Make sure you make time for the things that you love and that will pour into you. I think it’s vitally important just to our mental
Takeisha Jefferson: I think we’re the absence of it. It’s like you are really like, oh, what are you doing to you that you make time for everybody else, but we can’t make time for ourselves.
Takeisha Jefferson: I know some people do five minute sketches, you know, set your timer a little bit and keep adding onto it. So yeah, go from there.
Michaela Ayers: I appreciate that cuz lately I’ve been studying the power of play especially as we get older, we’re told to mature out of that out, like out of play.
Michaela Ayers: And that’s something that kids do, but we’re just grown children. Like we’re just, we’re still kids at heart. And so that’s what I hear in your invitation to people who are listening. If you have some creative itch or urge scratch it. You know, like, please, yes, go play. Yes. Like even for five minutes.
Michaela Ayers: You are worthy of that. And, who knows what might happen.
Takeisha Jefferson: Hopefully. All good stuff.
Michaela Ayers: Well thank you so much, Takeisha. I’ve really enjoyed this.
Takeisha Jefferson: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Michaela Ayers: All right, welcome. Welcome. So excited to have you here, jazz.
Jassmine Parks: Hey, how y’all doing?
Michaela Ayers: So, for our listeners , I am joined by the wonderful Jassmine Parks, who I am so grateful to call a collaborator in this project. So, Jass, would you share a little bit about who you are and what you’re about?
Jassmine Parks: Yeah, most definitely. First and foremost, I’m very thankful to be a collaborator on black hair stories.
Jassmine Parks: My name is Jasmine Parks, best known as Jass in the community with other artists, I am first and foremost, I am a mother. I am a wife, and I am a creator. I don’t like to limit my ability to put things into the world, whether it be vocal, whether it be written just to a genre such as poetry.
Jassmine Parks: I’m learning so much about me having power to create outside of just one scope. So though foundation level, I operate in poetry a lot. I have big dreams of writing for podcast writing when it comes to examining mass incarceration and the fractures in black communities and families.
Jassmine Parks: I look forward to also dabbling in film, having that experience last year with my short film called Black Spelled BOK. I’m just a creative and creator energy.
Michaela Ayers: Absolutely. Well, not that you need me to co-sign on that, but I affirm that, and I think that was one of the things that drew me to you immediately was, I recognized you as a fellow creator and as a very powerful person.
Michaela Ayers: My other question is how does participating in this project how does it align with the work that you wanna do in the world?
Jassmine Parks: On a personal level, black women have been so central to like the core, the fiber of who I am. I come from a family where we are mainly matrilineal.
Jassmine Parks: A lot of the men weren’t present and there weren’t that many to begin with. There were a lot of things that happened that was traumatic on our family, making it difficult for the women in the family to connect on a level that was healthy. In many different ways. I can identify why that has been a struggle, but it has also informed me.
Jassmine Parks: Ff why I wanna go seek out relationships that are healthy with black women and also who are storytellers. Despite everything that is up against black women during everyday circumstances, black women are some of the most extraordinary strong ass resilience. Knowing how to make a dollar out of a penny.
Jassmine Parks: They stretch themselves as much as possible. The elasticity of black women is just singular in a way that I have not seen it exist anywhere else. And I think that. , we are brilliant and what makes it so important? Not saying none of this stuff exists within other races, but I feel as though there have been so many barriers, so many obstacles that has tried to snuff us knowing that about ourselves.
Jassmine Parks: But there are women who are creators saying that is not true. That there is still so much power in us, despite the barriers and obstacles that we come up against. And for me, the way that black hear stories fall in line with my dream, my vision for a paradise of a world for black women to be living in is that creator energy is saying that we are literally building a world that we want out of our storytelling.
Michaela Ayers: Yes, absolutely. When you talk about this paradise, I know I wanna be there, so I’m grateful to be on the path and grateful to be on the journey with you.
Michaela Ayers: So many of the things as you said are a beautiful tie around Taisha Jefferson’s work and so just from the jump, I’d love to hear what stood out to you about that conversation.
Jassmine Parks: The biggest thing that really leapt out was the gaze and also visibility.
Jassmine Parks: Takeisha’s work is really strong. One of the biggest things that stuck out is that she said people request for her to take beautiful photos but for her, that isn’t important in her messaging. What is important is the storytelling attached to the images that you create.
Jassmine Parks: So it’s not just about creating. Pretty themes or pretty people, out of these images, even though they are really beautiful, don’t get me wrong. She also talks about distressing the portraits that she does and how that distress is also depicting.
Jassmine Parks: What everyday life of black girls and black women in a world that is rooted in a lot of racism and a lot of discrimination and a lot of implicit bias. I do not believe we live in a colorblind society. You see us as black, as feminine, and that informs how the world is going to interact with us, right?
Jassmine Parks: Even going back to like military where she’s had a commander, informed her and not in a way that was trying to make her feel bad about herself or go into a space or feeling dejected, but let her know that because she lives at the intersection of blackness and women and she has two strikes against her. And also while she was in the military, it was a black woman that seen her, that also supported her that said, Hey! I got your back.
Jassmine Parks: And how that companionship had also gave her like a second breath, right?
Jassmine Parks: And then thinking about how to distress, how that lends to a story and also, , whether the subject of her work is looking directly at the audience or averting the gays and averting the gays in a sense where this work may actually show up within a gallery and how it’s saying I’m focusing on the things that matters to me. And I don’t have to feed into you, right?
Jassmine Parks: Or the direct gaze, which goes against the historical, when black people could not look directly in white people’s eyes.
Jassmine Parks: And it’s this, this level of confidence that Takeisha was talking about.
Michaela Ayers: I think the thing that’s coming up for me at least is how I see her using beauty in an interesting way.
Michaela Ayers: Like, I can do more than take pretty pictures and also inviting black women into beauty in a timeless way. I think her use of this kind of wet plate, tin type style of photography that was more prominent in the 18 hundreds, I really appreciated that as her tool in terms of, how can I disrupt the narrative around. Black people were portrayed at this time.
Michaela Ayers: And by inserting that image, how that can help us reimagine how black people have been represented and simultaneously, offering this moment of delight for people who are sitting for her. Right? Like, I, I really appreciated her invitation to say, I’ve got the dress, I’ve got the shoes.
Michaela Ayers: Yeah. All you gotta do is show up. This is a space for you, you’re gonna be taken care of. This is my intention to honor you and that is beautiful. I see it on both sides in that way.
Michaela Ayers: I also appreciate this interrogation of the gays, both in terms of thinking about perhaps people outside the black community being exposed to an image of a black person that is striking, that is like empowered and confident and unapologetic.
Michaela Ayers: And also the gaze of a person, black person. Seeing that image and feeling affirm. And feeling thought of, and feeling like there’s someone else here. Similar to that share that you offered in terms of her experience in the military and that, that other person, that other black woman offering her that kind of companionship.
Michaela Ayers: So many layers. So many layers in the conversation. And what this conversation stir up in me was thinking about gender this feminine energy that she captures so beautifully and knowing that’s her intention, that that is her charge right now, photographing black women.
Michaela Ayers: And for me it stirred up this kind of interrogation around gender within the context of this project and thinking about, feminine energy and that it’s not something that we can necessarily recognize just by the body that someone is moving in the world in, right?
Michaela Ayers: It’s definitely making me think about that in terms. How might I better include people who hold that feminine spirit, are trans sisters who are really important in this space and also wanna be seen and deserve to be honored.
Michaela Ayers: There are so many layers to the black woman’s experience. I just wanna hold space for that and wanna learn more through this project .
Jassmine Parks: Yeah, definitely. I appreciate thinking about intersectionality, just having so much nuance to it, right? That femininity doesn’t just belong to cisgender sisters, our trans sisters, but also our non-binary folks that may operate outside of the like spectrum of the binary, but also may incorporate some femininity into how they’re living and how they’re experience in the world, right?
Jassmine Parks: How do we actually create a space that is inclusive? Not in just a performative way, like just through regular de allyship, but also saying like how do we bring these beautiful souls, these beautiful minds, to have some input or us to think about their stories as artists as well.
Michaela Ayers: Yeah, definitely.
Michaela Ayers: Regular Degular , how do we get beyond that ? How do we get beyond that regular degular?
Michaela Ayers: I think one of the things, the thing, the word that I have used and the thing that, the word that feels the most alive for me when I think about Takeisha’s work is timeless.
Michaela Ayers: And the potential of the infinite and eternal power of the image. That’s what I’m walking away with from this episode thinking about, her intention is not just for people in the present. To see and enjoy her work. It’s also for people in the future.
Michaela Ayers: And I feel that, I align to that so deeply cuz that’s also my desire with this project, right? It’s like people in the future have the potential to hear what we are thinking, what we’re inspired by, what our struggles are, and to offer those breadcrumbs. So I feel so grateful to have come across her path, to have had the chance to hear her story.
Jassmine Parks: Yeah, for sure. I think alongside her. We are all considering like what our legacy will be and what will be that impact to the generation of now and the generation that is succumb. And I really appreciate the intention that Takeisha is moving through her work, just as I appreciate the intention of what this podcast is trying to do as well. And earlier you said, I wanna be in that utopia, but you’re also crafting it, alongside all of us and the tireless efforts of many women and many fem identifying people as well which I think is really important. The long lived, the legacy may be rooted in healthy soil.
Jassmine Parks: And may we continue to water and nourish that creation into the. Amen.
Michaela Ayers: Well, thank you so much Jass, for debriefing with me. I’m so glad to have you in the band.
Jassmine Parks: Definitely. Thanks Michaela, and thanks to Takeisha. I love your work. Fantastic. Can’t wait to see what you conjure up next.
Michaela Ayers: A sincere thanks to Takeisha Jefferson for joining us in this episode and a sister. Shout out to Carrie Mae Weems. If you would like to learn more about these artists and see the gorgeous image of the black Mona Lisa that we discuss, head on over to our website, our Instagram linked in the show notes.
Michaela Ayers: This episode of Black Her Stories was produced and edited by me with the support of my girl, Jassmine Parks. Our music is by artist, composer, and my dear friend Chris Sims.
Michaela Ayers: As always, I’d love to hear what resonated with you about this episode.
Michaela Ayers: What is your relationship with Divine Timing? Don’t be shy. Drop me a line at nourish.community.
Michaela Ayers: Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, please take good care!