April 26, 2023

Episode 02 Celebrating the Rhythm of Black American Life with Judy Bowman

In this episode, we dive into a conversation with Judy Bowman. Bowman is a mixed-media collage artist whose figurative works celebrate the rhythm and beauty woven into the fabric of Black American culture. Born and raised on the Eastside of Detroit, Judy uses vibrant colors and textured paper to illustrate visual narratives of her family, friends, and the everyday elegance of her community. 

Considering herself a visual griot, she sees her job to tell stories that are reflective of her coming-of-age in Detroit’s Eastside and Black Bottom neighborhoods. Often compared to Romare Bearden, she too is committed to a Black aesthetic and her craft. Judy Bowman is the recipient of the 2023 Mack Alive Ambassador Fine Art Collection Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2022 Alain Locke Recognition Art Awardee, and a 2021 Kresge Artist Fellow.

In this episode, we talk about: 

  • Jazz and the Importance of Practice

  • Detroit Style and Fashion in the Black Community

  • Pride, Dignity, and Respect




[00:00:00] 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. 

[00:00:33] Michaela Ayers: Together we’ll explore what possibilities exist when creativity meets history, when we harness our creative power to unlock our purpose.

[00:00:47] Michaela Ayers: I’m your host, Michaela Ayers.

[00:00:49] Michaela Ayers: [00:01:00] When I think about my conversation with Judy Bowman, I think about what it feels like to be proud.

[00:01:09] Michaela Ayers: To feel respected and protected by your personal style. 

[00:01:14] Michaela Ayers: To feel the electric pulse of jazz so intensely that you surrender to the improvisational nature of black life. A beautiful and worthy adventure. 

[00:01:30] Michaela Ayers: This feeling of dignified triumphant joy informs my conversation with Judy Bowman. 

[00:01:42] Michaela Ayers: Judy Bowman is a mixed media collage artist whose figurative works, celebrate the rhythm, movement and beauty. Woven into the fabric of black American culture.

[00:01:56] Michaela Ayers: Born and raised on the east side of Detroit. [00:02:00] Judy uses vibrant colors and textured paper to illustrate visual narratives of her family, friends, and the everyday elegance of her community.

[00:02:14] Michaela Ayers: Often compared to Romare Bearden, she too is committed to a black aesthetic and her craft. Judy is the recipient of the 2023 Mac Alive Ambassador Fine Art Collection, lifetime Achievement Award, the 2022 Elaine Locke Recognition Art Awardee, and a 2021 Kresge Artist fellow. 

[00:02:42] Michaela Ayers: She is truly, an icon, a source of inspiration, and someone who I deeply admire.

[00:02:51] Michaela Ayers: This interview was so much fun, so without further ado, Let’s dive in to my conversation with Judy Bowman.

[00:02:59] [00:03:00] 

[00:03:09] Michaela Ayers: Judy. Judy, Judy. Judy. Well, do me a favor. Will you pinch me? 

[00:03:16] Judy Bowman: Okay. 

[00:03:17] Michaela Ayers: Make sure I’m not dreaming because does the dream come true to be here with you, in your space.

[00:03:23] Judy Bowman: Well, thank you. Thank you. It’s good having you here.

[00:03:27] Judy Bowman: I like being around young people. They teach me so much.

[00:03:31] Michaela Ayers: Likewise, I really appreciate having elders in my life.

[00:03:36] Judy Bowman: We help each other navigate this road. It energizes me. To see how people are moving in this world now. I’m constantly learning and I’m so appreciative that I have people in my life who will teach me how to navigate this new world that we’re in right now.

[00:03:56] Michaela Ayers: I’m really excited to dive [00:04:00] into so much about you. Of course. That’s so much of the intention of black hair stories is to learn more about you as a person and also explore your art.

[00:04:09] Michaela Ayers: As a native Detroiter. So much of your art and so many of your experiences are informed by growing up on the east side, and you share that you lived on Lafayette and McDougal. 

[00:04:20] Judy Bowman: Yes. 

[00:04:21] Michaela Ayers: I wondered if we could go back in time, what kind of things would you see on that street when you were growing up?

[00:04:28] Michaela Ayers: What would happen?

[00:04:30] Judy Bowman: We lived in a two story flat. And we lived on the top flat and my church was Kitty Corner, our Family church, which was Mary Palmer United Methodist Church.

[00:04:42] Judy Bowman: And we lived next door to a steel factory , I was only five years old.

[00:04:48] Judy Bowman: Some things I just remember from pictures, but actually I remember the stairwell that led up to the first flat. And I remember what the [00:05:00] basement looked like, and I remember that there were a lot of people in the house and we just had a good time.

[00:05:07] Michaela Ayers: What kind of things would happen in the house?

[00:05:09] Judy Bowman: Parties, birthday parties. Yes. And playing cards. We moved into a home that was my father’s friend because, my mother and father had just gotten married and, they had me and they needed a place to live, so their friend invited them to come and live with them.

[00:05:32] Judy Bowman: I’ve always been in a community of people. I’ve never really lived solo. Just always people around. When I look at pictures, I remember seeing a lot of people coming and

[00:05:44] Michaela Ayers: So it sounds like lots of activity because of that, in terms of playing cards or birthday parties.

[00:05:51] Michaela Ayers: We talked a little bit about music beforehand. Is there a particular soundtrack to that time? 

[00:05:57] Judy Bowman: We’re talking about when I was five, [00:06:00] when we moved on to Seneca, which is also on the east side of Detroit, we listened to the radio station, Martha Jean, the Queen, and music from the radio.

[00:06:08] Judy Bowman: So, there was always black music. But then as when I started getting into being a teenager, we started listening to more jazz and particularly my cousins and my boyfriend that I had at that time. He was a big Ramsey Lewis fan, and Maiden Voyage was my favorite song.

[00:06:28] Judy Bowman: It was like a mixture of different kinds of musics, you had your r and b, and then I was, hearing a little bit of jazz.

[00:06:37] Judy Bowman: And so all of those things have taken me to where I am now. As far as my likes for music, definitely Motown. 

[00:06:46] Michaela Ayers: I feel like that rhythm comes through in your art.

[00:06:49] Judy Bowman: Yes. Yes. And even though I don’t know a lot about music, I just enjoy listening to it.

[00:06:56] Judy Bowman: I’m not a student of music. I just have [00:07:00] particular things that I like to listen to. For instance, I just found out about Robert Glasper, and so that’s all I listen to now. I listen to Robert Glasper and the artists that he has on his radio station. It’s just been a whole different learning experience and I’m so fortunate to have these different experiences come into my life and influence me. I do a lot of musicians in my work. 

[00:07:28] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. 

[00:07:29] Judy Bowman: And it is not so much based on the music, it’s based on the way musicians look to me. Like they’re in a zone.

[00:07:37] Judy Bowman: They’re gonna put it out there and they don’t care who’s listening, it’s just about them and their music.

[00:07:43] Judy Bowman: And I just love that intensity that they have. I enjoy photographs of musicians just as much as I do the music. Because they just look so connected to their craft. And nothing else matters. 

[00:07:59] Michaela Ayers: I agree [00:08:00] cuz when we go to a concert or a club, we see them in that flow state and that’s not something you always get to see when you’re enjoying the art of somebody else.

[00:08:11] Judy Bowman: When I do my collages, I keep that in my mind and I try to put that spirit into my work.

[00:08:18] Michaela Ayers: Yeah.

[00:08:19] Judy Bowman: So some people might think, wow, she’s really into music. I am in a sense, but I’m more into the intensity, the craft, and doing what you have to do. And sharing it with the world.

[00:08:33] Michaela Ayers: I feel grateful that I come from a family of musicians.

[00:08:35] Michaela Ayers: I’m not a musician, but my brothers are. He said, I just have to do this. This is something my spirit has to do. I’ve heard that from so many different musicians throughout my life. There’s something in particular about jazz artists though that I find that energy really unique

[00:08:53] Judy Bowman: It’s like, this is what I’m gonna do, this is how I’m going to play it, and you don’t have to [00:09:00] like it, but, this is what I’m gonna do and I’m gonna dedicate my life to it. And I just like that energy. I think we all have to do what we need to do to make this world better. So, that’s my fascination with musicians. 

[00:09:15] Judy Bowman: Most of the times, as an artist, I’m in the studio by myself and I’m creating, and you don’t see the energy and all of that’s going on with it, but musicians, when they’re on the stage, you’re seeing them create.

[00:09:27] Judy Bowman: They’re in the zone.

[00:09:28] Michaela Ayers: Right. That’s magic.

[00:09:29] Judy Bowman: Yeah, it is. It really is.

[00:09:32] Michaela Ayers: and I think the other thing that’s interesting, related to your work and this idea of jazz is that we’re talking about very black mediums, in terms of the roots of jazz. Even thinking about the blues and rock and roll, these are things that have a very black origin story.

[00:09:48] Michaela Ayers: There’s also something coming up for me when we were thinking about looking at images of jazz artists and their style.

[00:09:55] Judy Bowman: Yes. 

[00:09:56] Michaela Ayers: And their dress. 

[00:09:56] Judy Bowman: Oh yes.

[00:09:57] Michaela Ayers: And I know that is such a big part of your work in terms of the fashion. 

[00:10:03] Judy Bowman: Yes. 

[00:10:03] Michaela Ayers: And so I wanted to talk about Detroit style and, how it manifest.

[00:10:08] Michaela Ayers: So if you were to see a stylish person walking down the street, is there anything about their swagger that would tell you that they were from Detroit?

[00:10:20] Judy Bowman: Everything is coordinated. The hat, the tie, the shoes, the little hanky in the pocket, everything is in order.

[00:10:30] Judy Bowman: And it’s coordinated. It’s like a orchestra. Everything goes together 

[00:10:35] Michaela Ayers: mm-hmm. 

[00:10:35] Judy Bowman: To make the symphony of a person, and the walk. The walk is also a part of the rhythm of the style and the clothes. It  all goes together, you see it all the time. I talk about my Brothers and my cousins, I mean, they had it down pat.

[00:10:52] Judy Bowman: I was fascinated by them in their style and, they just had a air about themselves, it was kind of cool and it was kind of dangerous and mysterious and protective. 

[00:11:06] Judy Bowman: I didn’t know it at the time, but they really influenced me.

[00:11:09] Judy Bowman: And so it comes out in my work and, I know how you’re supposed to look. I know how your clothes go together. So when I’m doing my artwork, I don’t have to look at any references? I think about my cousins and I think about my brothers and I think about my father, and the men in my neighborhood, how they carry themselves and, I know what to do.

[00:11:29] Judy Bowman: This is ingrained in my mind and my memory. On how it’s supposed to look. I just did a piece and it’s called 313 all day, because you could look at somebody and say, yeah, that’s Detroit all day, right over there. And, it makes you feel proud and makes you feel happy.

[00:11:46] Judy Bowman: And they’re representing what Detroit is all about. 313 all day .

[00:11:52] Michaela Ayers: There were so many things in there. I appreciated this idea of the symphony of a person in terms of not only the coordination of all the different details, like the pocket square , the hat and all of the things that go together, but also the walk. 

[00:12:08] Judy Bowman: Oh, yeah.

[00:12:08] Michaela Ayers: You know, the swagger that they have and how they move through the city.

[00:12:11] Judy Bowman: Yeah. And, and you got the hat of Gators. You got the hat of Gators on. When we were little, you call it a pimp walk, but I don’t know what the walk is called now, but it’s a movement, it’s a rhythm.

[00:12:23] Judy Bowman: It’s a art.

[00:12:24] Michaela Ayers: Mm-hmm.

[00:12:25] Judy Bowman: The whole combination to me is art. You can feel it, you can see it, you can experience it. And I love it. 

[00:12:36] Michaela Ayers: I appreciate what you were sharing in terms of, it being a form of protection and pride. What clothes allow us to do, thinking about how do I wanna be received or perceived out in the world.

[00:12:49] Michaela Ayers: And I think there’s something unique around blackness and fashion. And so I wanted to talk about, how does this idea of style and dignity and respect, how does that relate in the black community? Why is that important?

[00:13:08] Judy Bowman: It’s important because you may not have a lot of material things or money, but you can still carry yourself and dress yourself in such a way that you have a dignity about yourself.

[00:13:23] Judy Bowman: Somebody will receive you and say, that person, somebody, look at them, look how they have their head up and look how they’re walking and look how they’re dressed and how they carry themselves. I was at the Detroit Historical Museum, and I was looking at an exhibit that the Breakfast Club had there, and I saw this elderly man, but he was standing tall and, his clothes and everything that he had on just showed that he had pride about himself.

[00:13:53] Judy Bowman: And that he wasn’t any old body. So, I had to go up to him and I said, I need to take your picture. I need to record you, I wanna do a collage of you. And that’s, that longing to know who this person is and show who this person is because that Detroit swag.

[00:14:13] Michaela Ayers: I appreciate fashion as an invitation to learn more.

[00:14:16] Michaela Ayers: Like, this person looks like somebody, I gotta come up, I gotta take their picture. I wanna know who they are and it reminds me of something I heard. Martin Luther King Jr. Very important ancestor to me, and I heard him talk about how his mom infused this sense of somebodiness in him. 

[00:14:26] Judy Bowman: Mm-hmm. 

[00:14:26] Michaela Ayers: And I really held onto that idea of somebodiness.

[00:14:41] Judy Bowman: Mm-hmm.

[00:14:41] Michaela Ayers: And how our clothes can do some of that for us in terms of putting that energy out into the world. 

[00:14:48] Judy Bowman: Yeah.

[00:14:48] Michaela Ayers: And since I’m here, I have the privilege of being here in your studio and I’m looking over and I’m seeing some beautiful works here. I’m curious for you, when you think about the story of these artists style, like these jazz musicians that are here in front of us.

[00:15:05] Michaela Ayers: What was the story or what was the inspiration for you when you were putting their outfits together?

[00:15:10] Judy Bowman: I want people to see the pride that we have in ourselves. We wanna represent dignity. We want to represent, taking what we have and making it shine, making a statement.

[00:15:30] Judy Bowman: I feel that everybody who comes on earth, you have a purpose and you represent your family. You represent your community. You represent how you were brought up. This is what you show and who you are, how you carry yourself. I think black people are mighty people and that we’ve been given a bad rep about what we can or cannot do. 

[00:16:02] Judy Bowman: The thing that I like about how we dress or how we carry ourselves is that we can put something together and make it look good.

[00:16:13] Michaela Ayers: Mm-hmm.

[00:16:14] Judy Bowman: We can make it look so good that other cultures want to emulate it. And so that’s what I wanna show in my artwork. We can take nothing and turn it into something.

[00:16:25] Judy Bowman: And so these are the kind of people that influenced me and raised me and put that inside of me to take scraps of paper and turn it into something valuable and something that’s gonna be appreciated and something that’s beautiful. The east side of Detroit taught me that, take this and run with it.

[00:16:46] Michaela Ayers: That’s a beautiful segue into something I’ve been really curious about early childhood experiences and how those show up in our art. And so I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about Little Judy and how did she like to play?

[00:17:05] Judy Bowman: Ah, well, I was more of the tomboy, my family liked to dress, I didn’t really particularly care about that.

[00:17:13] Judy Bowman: I was more about having fun and getting out and playing in the alley and playing baseball, dodge ball and kickball. I was more about playing and riding my bikes and all of that, but, even though I was not a girly girl, my family still made me dress up, especially on Sundays and going out in the public.

[00:17:37] Judy Bowman: They wanted me to look my best at all times, even though I didn’t choose that path. Because it represented the family. You just can’t go out here looking any old kind of way. Sometimes I could slip out looking in you kind of way, but most of the times I couldn’t because it was a standard.

[00:17:57] Judy Bowman: You did a little check before you stepped out the house. 

[00:18:00] Michaela Ayers: There’s so many things in there related to the clothes and looking a particular kind of way. And I appreciated that you were into team sports, you were into baseball and dodge ball. Did I hear you say?

[00:18:12] Judy Bowman: Dodge ball. Yeah. And I was a cheerleader and, so I was more on the, physical side of growing up. I didn’t do so much with the fashion part, but it was all a part of the community.

[00:18:24] Judy Bowman: You had all different kinds of people, and one thing that I liked particularly about my community and my home. Whoever you were, however you presented yourself, you were still accepted. My family, we had a lot of different family members and different people actually living in our home.

[00:18:46] Judy Bowman: And some of them were on hard times.

[00:18:49] Judy Bowman: And no matter what, my family, my mother and my father invited them in to stay as long as they needed to stay and to give them food and, give them a place, food to eat. And it was always food. Always food. 

[00:19:02] Judy Bowman: And they were always cooking they told me to get out the kitchen. I don’t know how to cook to this day, and I don’t even like cooking, but it was always food.

[00:19:12] Judy Bowman: There’s always a smell of food coming from the house. So that’s how I see my community as people always helping and supporting each other.

[00:19:22] Michaela Ayers: Well, you mentioned one of my favorite topics, food.

[00:19:28] Michaela Ayers: And so I’m wondering, what is that smell when you think about that house and all the adults and the coming together and sharing and what was that smell?

[00:19:36] Judy Bowman: Oh, it was a smell of fried chicken, some nights and sometimes it was a smell of swine, pig, roast. It was that smells some chitlins and all of that. And breads and you could have the vegetables and you could smell there’s barbecue, and Kool-Aid.

[00:19:54] Judy Bowman: The Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid doesn’t have a smell, but my mom, she made that Kool-Aid so thick you could stand the spoon. It had a lot of sugar in it.

[00:20:03] Judy Bowman: But it was really good back then. It was really good. It’s a wonder we don’t have diabetes cause, because of that Kool-Aid.

[00:20:13] Judy Bowman: But it was all of those memories and things that I reflected in my artwork and I’m so happy that I’ve had that experience. We did not have a lot, but what we had made it look good.

[00:20:29] Michaela Ayers: Well, thank you for giving us a little window into the smells and the kitchen and what was there to drink. And I get nostalgic thinking about Kool-Aid ‘cause that was also a part of my childhood. It’s not so much a part of my life now, but those were. very playful memories,

[00:20:46] Judy Bowman: Red Kool-Aid. I want what kinda Kool-Aid you want? Red.

[00:20:53] Michaela Ayers: so, yeah. Yeah. 

[00:20:55] Michaela Ayers: Well, and I think there’s an interesting thread that I see between the community in your house. The different families who were together, and then the community that shows up in your art practice. When it comes to the inspiration for your collages has it always been directly tied to people in your community?

[00:21:15] Judy Bowman: It has been. And, sometimes I wonder, am I gonna run out of ideas to do, because that’s all right now that I want to show and talk about.

[00:21:25] Judy Bowman: But, yesterday in Tennessee, the Tennessee three were expelled from their positions as politicians and representatives.

[00:21:37] Judy Bowman: And while I was listening to the news, I was saying in my mind how I can interpret that in an art form. And it just stopped me in my tracks about this is something powerful and this is something that needs to be recorded. And this is a change. This is something  flipped over, something turned, and the politicians were protesting children being shot in schools.

[00:22:09] Michaela Ayers: Yeah.

[00:22:10] Judy Bowman: And they were, we gotta do something about these assault weapons. And, they stood up and they were expelled for standing up. And so I’m starting to move beyond the comfort of my community ‘cause there are other things that we, as artists need to record and document, put it on paper. Because what we put into our art is gonna last way longer than our time here on earth. And people need to know , and we need to narrate what happened and how we saw it. It was just like when muhammad Ali became champion, the champion of the world, we need to be able to interpret what that meant for the community, and talk about those things. And how when he said, I’m not fighting your war. Those are things that I need to put in my art too.

[00:23:15] Michaela Ayers: The word that was coming up for me when you were sharing was protest.

[00:23:18] Michaela Ayers: Because I associate that with these politicians, but also Muhammad Ali saying, I’m not gonna fight your war. Blackness has such a culture of protest. That we can look to and think about from the past, from the present, like what you’re sharing, and then also thinking about people in the future.

[00:23:35] Michaela Ayers: They need to see this. They need to know what this was

[00:23:38] Judy Bowman: And it needs to come, it needs to be our voice, it needs to be our narrative.

[00:23:45] Judy Bowman: When I lived on Seneca in the rebellion of 67, I can remember the smoke. Buildings burning. I can remember the helicopters that were going over our houses. The first time those helicopters came over the house, we were on the porch and the neighbors across the street, they just started running because the rotors sounded like gunshot.

[00:24:15] Judy Bowman: And they ran into, and so that’s in the back of my mind that I need to create the rebellion of 67 in Detroit. That’s a part of my history and I need to show. I can show the swag, but there were other things that are going on in Detroit that need to be documented and recorded from the view of a young teenager, 12 year old girl, what she saw and heard and how it felt.

[00:24:42] Judy Bowman: I’ve said before that , I’m a visual grill, a grill is usually somebody who tells the story orally, but I put it in paper and I tell this story that way. And so all parts of how we came up need to be documented.

[00:25:00] Michaela Ayers: Yeah.

[00:25:01] Judy Bowman: All parts, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

[00:25:03] Michaela Ayers: Something I appreciate about your share is there’s so many dimensions to every. So how a young person experienced the rebellion of 67 is probably a story we haven’t heard enough. Mm-hmm. You know, when we think about how things have been recorded mm-hmm.

[00:25:21] Michaela Ayers: And understood, and I think there’s just so much power in that, in terms of that visual grio identity that you hold and giving people a window into an experience that they otherwise would not have gotten to see.

[00:25:37] Michaela Ayers: And, there’s a few questions that I have cuz I’m a fellow collage artist and so I really enjoy studying your work and other collage artists over time, because I think it’s a really unique medium.

[00:25:51] Michaela Ayers: Anybody can do it. 

[00:25:53] Judy Bowman: Yeah. 

[00:25:54] Michaela Ayers: No matter what age you are. 

[00:25:55] Judy Bowman: Exactly. 

[00:25:55] Michaela Ayers: And there’s no wrong way to do it, in terms of, your impulse is correct. 

[00:26:00] Judy Bowman: Mm-hmm. 

[00:26:00] Michaela Ayers: That’s what I tell people. I do a collage workshop and it’s really fun for me because I know no matter what, everyone’s collage is gonna look different

[00:26:09] Judy Bowman: it, and it’s gonna be beautiful

[00:26:10] Michaela Ayers: and it’s gonna be beautiful.

[00:26:11] Michaela Ayers: And I know that a lot of people compare your work to Romare Bearden. 

[00:26:15] Judy Bowman: Yes, they do. 

[00:26:16] Michaela Ayers: Who is a favorite of mine as well. And so I was going through this thought experiment in my mind thinking about, if you could put your art in a gallery with any artist, living or dead, who would you wanna be in a group show with?

[00:26:35] Judy Bowman: It would be Charles White, it would be Romare Bearden, and would be Jacob Lawrence. Those three, I would be honored.

[00:26:45] Michaela Ayers: What is it about them, what is it about the art that inspires you?

[00:26:48] Judy Bowman: ‘Cause he tells stories too.

[00:26:50] Michaela Ayers: Mm-hmm.

[00:26:51] Judy Bowman: And, there’s always a dignity about it.

[00:26:54] Judy Bowman: Charles White was the person that I really looked to before I did collages, I did pastels and drawings and, Charles White was really a person who influenced the direction of what I wanted to do, and when, I just really connected with his work because it was always so powerful and strong. It had, a presence, a power about it.

[00:27:20] Judy Bowman: And because I see my community as a powerful community, I wanted to do that to. Then I wanted to do different kinds of things, and so that’s how I moved into the collages with the colors and the bright and the bold colors. I just recently learned the term Kool-Aid colors.

[00:27:39] Judy Bowman: I used a lot of Kool-Aid colors in my work and the colors will attract and draw people in. And then, I always wanted to be a storyteller. When I was young, I said I wanted to be an author and illustrator of children’s books and so these are like big giant pages of books to me.

[00:27:56] Michaela Ayers: I love that cuz I see how it so directly relates to your time as an educator. Right. So that identity is still coming out in your work in a different format.

[00:28:07] Judy Bowman: A different format.

[00:28:08] Michaela Ayers: And I also appreciate this nod to Kool-Aid colors, cuz that makes me think about AfriCOBRA

[00:28:13] Judy Bowman: Yeah.

[00:28:14] Michaela Ayers: and terms of like what kind of energy is in the room, what in terms of blackness and how that shows up in our art.

[00:28:22] Judy Bowman: I went to expo Chicago last year, and these two elderly people came in.

[00:28:31] Judy Bowman: To the show. And I saw them and they were walking so tall and they were in their eighties and nineties.

[00:28:39] Judy Bowman: And I said, I gotta take a picture of them. I went up to them and I asked them, could I take a picture of you? And they agreed and I took the pictures and I brought them home. And then I later found out while I was there, I found out that that was Wadsworth Jarrell.

[00:28:58] Michaela Ayers: oh my gosh. Amazing.

[00:29:00] Judy Bowman: I know, and I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know. 

[00:29:04] Michaela Ayers: Wow. 

[00:29:04] Judy Bowman: And so, this year I’m going back to Expo as an artist, found my work exhibited and I did a piece of them.

[00:29:12] Judy Bowman: And I hope they come so they could see it. I want them to see my interpretation of them because they go along that line of the dignity and the pride and the way they carried themselves. When I saw them, I just said, wow, I gotta know who these people are.

[00:29:30] Michaela Ayers: What emotions come up for you when you think about that piece? Because I know emotions are so much a part of your work.

[00:29:39] Judy Bowman: It was like, okay, you can live a long time. But you could still have that dignity about you. I mean, seriously when they came in it was like the world’s stopped and they were just walking in. But, you know how you see somebody and you say, that person’s different.

[00:29:59] Judy Bowman: That person got a presence about them and that’s how they came in. And I didn’t know who they were. All I knew is that I needed to take their picture. I needed to record what I saw.

[00:30:13] Michaela Ayers: What I hear in that is there’s this like curiosity. Of, who are these people? How are they putting this outfit together? I wanna try it. What would it look like for me to try to illustrate them? And then the joy of getting to do that.

[00:30:27] Michaela Ayers: Like in this moment, this might be the only moment I see them.

[00:30:31] Judy Bowman: Yeah.

[00:30:31] Michaela Ayers: So how can I take this energy and put it out into the world.

[00:30:36] Judy Bowman: It’s like, this is us, this right here. This, these people right here. This is us, this is that mighty people that I’m talking about.

[00:30:44] Judy Bowman: This is us and, I’m gonna put this on this collage and I’m gonna put it out where other people can see it, we’re not woo as me, we’re not downtrodden. This is us right here. At old age. Still productive, still moving, still going, moving and shaking.

[00:30:59] Michaela Ayers: When I think about your work and what it would be like to walk through a gallery in this kind of imagination space to see like Charles White and Romare Bearden’s work and your work.

[00:31:12] Michaela Ayers: And they’re all so different, but there’s still that same intention of This is us. And look at all of the different ways that blackness can be expressed with that dignity and pride, just with that innate beauty.

[00:31:26] Judy Bowman: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s what it’s all about. And that’s my mission to show. I feel that’s my purpose to be here. What I do, it comes easy for me.

[00:31:36] Judy Bowman: It comes very easy to translate an emotion to some paper, feel like it’s a gift ‘cause it is easy. People ask me how long does it take for me to create a collage? The longest part of it is knowing what I want to do, and how I want to do it.

[00:31:58] Judy Bowman: Getting the right papers, getting everything ready, to put it together. That’s the longest part. 

[00:32:04] Michaela Ayers: In my mind, I was thinking back to the jazz musician, just like all the hours of practice that we don’t get to see. My older brother plays tenor sax and I hear him talk about how he plays every day, and, that relationship that he has with practice.

[00:32:19] Judy Bowman: The preparation, the practice and then doing it and then having it come out the way your preparation and your practice prepared you to do it.

[00:32:28] Judy Bowman: It just all works. That’s the longest part of the whole process. So when people ask me how long it takes me to do an art piece. Actual doing it, it’s like a musician. You’ve played a song, the song only about so many minutes long, but it’s all that other stuff.

[00:32:47] Michaela Ayers: I guess in that way it makes me go back to all of those experiences that you had throughout your life, also being part of that practice. And I find that to be one of the satisfying parts of being an artist. It’s building up over time. And then I know I’m gonna have that moment where I’ll be able to illustrate this emotion. Or the people that I admire. And that satisfaction is the sweetest.

[00:33:13] Judy Bowman: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exactly right.

[00:33:19] Michaela Ayers: Well, we’re coming to my last question, and I guess in the spirit of reflecting on the past, I know you’re really inspired by the symbol of the Sankofa bird. Mm-hmm. And. You know, was asked us to look back, find what’s good, and bring it to the front. And so if you could go back in time and retrieve a powerful lesson from the past and bring it to the front, what would it be?

[00:33:46] Judy Bowman: Be who you’re supposed to be. Be who you are supposed to be, and don’t deviate from it because who you are supposed to be is a part of this big puzzle. If you don’t do your part, things won’t happen like they are supposed to happen. You remember the movie? It’s a Wonderful Life. 

[00:34:12] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. 

[00:34:13] Judy Bowman: With Jimmy Stewart. And, if Jimmy Stewart, his character, if he did not do what he was supposed to, it would change the whole dynamics of the community. So that’s what I would bring, be who you’re supposed to be because you’re here for a purpose, for the greater good. And don’t let anybody stop you from being who you’re supposed to.

[00:34:39] Judy Bowman: For instance, I believe I was put here to be an artist, but I had to stop for a long time, 35 years. And when I retired, I became who I was supposed to be.

[00:34:54] Judy Bowman: I knew I was an artist way back in kindergarten, and I studied, I went to school, but I didn’t get a chance to finish. But here I am now, who I’m supposed to be. 

[00:35:06] Michaela Ayers: That resonates with me deeply and I know I needed to hear that and I’m sure our listeners need to hear that too.

[00:35:14] Michaela Ayers: We can’t hear that enough. Cuz I think there’s, it’s easy to get pulled in another direction or feel like there’s things that you should do that don’t align with that voice that’s telling you no, this is who you’re supposed to be.

[00:35:26] Judy Bowman: Mm-hmm. 

[00:35:28] Michaela Ayers:  So, I really appreciate that.

[00:35:30] Michaela Ayers: Thank you. 

[00:35:31] Judy Bowman: That’s a lesson. You know how I said I enjoy being around young people because they teach. I’m gonna teach young people be who you’re supposed to be. Your parent might want you to be a teacher, but be who you’re supposed to be.

[00:35:49] Judy Bowman: You know who you’re supposed to be cuz you feel it inside of you.

[00:35:53] Michaela Ayers: Well, I’m curious, you mentioned kindergarten judy, she was an artist. She knew. What would she say? What if she were to be here in the room with us and see all the things that you’ve created, all the things that have happened for you now?

[00:36:08] Judy Bowman: She would probably say, what took you so long? What took you so long? You could have been doing this a long time ago.

[00:36:17] Michaela Ayers: Yeah.

[00:36:19] Judy Bowman: I was obedient finally.

[00:36:21] Michaela Ayers: Yes. You listened to her.

[00:36:23] Judy Bowman: Yes. It took a long time, but finally I was obedient.

[00:36:28] Michaela Ayers: Well, I’m so glad that you did. Thank you for listening. Thank you for saying yes to yourself as an artist.

[00:36:34] Judy Bowman: And if I could share that, with younger people, be who you’re supposed to be, you know who you are supposed to be . Be that, no matter what. 

[00:36:43] Michaela Ayers: A sincere thanks to Judy Bowman for joining us in this episode. If you’d like to learn more about Judy and see some of the images from our in-person interview, head on over to our Instagram, linked in the show notes. 

[00:37:11] Michaela Ayers: Up next, we’re hitting the streets to talk to Detroiters about Judy’s work and their swag. The community voice episode is in the works, so don’t touch that dial. 

[00:37:27] Michaela Ayers: This episode of Black Her Stories was produced and edited by me with the support of Jassmine Parks, Jean Alicia Elster and Sophiyah E. Our music is by artist, composer, and my dear friend Chris Sims.

[00:37:50] Michaela Ayers: As always. I’d love to hear what resonated with you about this conversation. What about your style makes you feel proud? Don’t be shy. Drop me a line at nourish.community

[00:38:05] Michaela Ayers: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, please take good care.


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