The Awakenings Project by Marissa Southards
By Sharee Silerio

When Marissa Southards picked up a camera three years ago, she was simply trying something new. One day, her husband Brian, a pencil artist, brought a professional-level camera home so he could work in a different medium.

Active in St. Louis protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, she took the camera into the streets to capture what was going on.

“You see an image, and it angers you, or it makes you mad. Or it inspires you. We are now equipped with the ability to tell our own story, because we have cameras now. One of the best quotes that I have ever heard was ‘The revolution will not be televised.’ And it won't be. We're telling our own story and we're doing it through pictures.”


After reviewing her protest photos, Southards’ husband noticed that she captured some unforgettable moments. Though her work was beautiful, she rejected the part of her that was an artist.

“I felt like, I'm a mom. I'm a career professional. I'm a wife. I'm an activist. These are the most important things,” she said. “Yes, I have this creativity, but I'm not going to do anything about it.”

After flipping through Instagram, she came upon a photo of her friend Ashley, covered but topless, fully without shame.

“Her attitude was, ‘If you don't like it, look away, but I love who I am.’ There was something about this woman owning everything about who she is that sparked something in me. I call it Revelation X because it was that true moment that I realized I am really stuck in my own way."

With her husband’s help, she took a photo of the word “empowered” on her bare back, put it in black and white, and then posted it on social media. She received a lot of positive feedback, and her friend Julie proposed using her space, the botanical beauty store Blissoma, for a shoot. After planning and promoting, they expected 10, maybe 12 women to show up.

Marissa Southards 
“There was a line. I ended up getting 52 women, girls and Trans women who were ready to reclaim themselves. Every woman chose a word that best reflected them, and it was not the label that society gave them,” says Southhards.

Thus, on October 29, 2016, The Awakenings Project was born in St. Louis, Missouri. The series was so powerful that Southards did it again. This past summer, she shot Awakenings II in Mattoon, IL, St. Louis, and Chicago, which included 101 participants. Awakenings III, which kicked off in Chicago this past weekend, has a wait list and will span multiple cities such as Louisville, Kentucky; Mobile, AL; St. Louis; Mattoon; and more.


Kujichagulia (Self-determination)
Using the body as a form of empowerment, protest, healing and reclamation has become a passion for Southards. This January, she planned an action during the St. Louis Women’s March when its leaders decided to silence women of color by disregarding their point of view, feelings and experiences.

“For generations, white women's bodies have been put on a pedestal. They have been used to shame women of color. Specifically, if you don't fit this idea, if you don't look like me, we're going to shame you. We decided to take back the messaging of our own bodies,” Southhards explains.

During the march, seven women walked down Market Street with little to no clothing on, and messages written on them such as: 53% of white women voted for Trump; Black Women Matter; Black Trans Women Matter; Resist; and No Justice, No Peace. By the end of the march, the group had grown to about 42 women.

Women's March 2017
Kelly Morrison, one of the models for Awakenings II, also participated in Southards’ Women’s March action says,

“There is something really beautiful and empowering about stripping away the context of everyone's opinion of you and focusing on how you see yourself, and putting that word on your body for all to see."
When using the female body as a form of protest, Southards feels that it's important to focus on issues that impact all women.

“Body as canvas is not a form of protest utilized very often. There's a very human element to it, and it’s very risky," says Marissa. "You have to be very cautious about it. But because it is so visual, the impact is bold. There is no way to ignore it."

To keep up with activist and photographer Marissa Southards, follow her on Facebook  & Instagram

Do you think bodies used as canvas is a viable form of protest?
 Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at then connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Artist Miles Regis
By Nikki Igbo
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” French impressionist artist Edgar Degas once made this statement and it could not be truer when considering the contributions of visual artists throughout history. Visual artists, through their work, clarify, expose, underscore and inform in ways that transcend age, ethnicity, language and time. Think Jean Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Romare Bearden and Elizabeth Catlett—all African-American artists whose work still speaks volumes and has great influence. The following 7 African-American artists are taking the baton from these artistic giants and running us all into a new age of beautiful and much-needed expression.


Artist Dianne Smith 

 Domestic Violence Month
 “He pushed me on the bed, pinned me down, and started punching me in the face,” recalls Harlem-based artist Dianne Smith, the night her 6’6, 270 lb. boyfriend assaulted her. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened, and when she asked him to go, he refused. She considered calling the police, however, she couldn’t risk them coming to her apartment and potentially killing this ‘big Black man,’ which would only make the situation worse. Besides, she had an important meeting in the morning regarding an art piece she was creating for the 40-year anniversary of the play, ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf.’
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Instead, she called her best friend from across the street, and his best friend who lived nearby. Together they convinced him to pack his bags. When he was gone, Dianne began tending to her face, which now looked like a cartoon character. She also notified her neighbors about what happened in case he decided to come back. Sure enough, the next morning he was there, waiting on her doorstep. But so were her neighbors, who wouldn’t let him any where near her. Using them as a shield, she pressed forward and continued on to her meeting.

But as she walked down the street of her neighborhood, she noticed that something in her had changed. “I had my hat pulled down with my face covered, and I had to ask myself, who am I protecting? Am I worried about what people think? But I’d done nothing wrong. There was no reason for me to be ashamed.” In that moment, Dianne decided that if anyone asked her what happened to her face, she’d tell them the truth. It was in stark contrast to her Belizean upbringing where appearances are everything and you don’t go putting your business in the street.

As time moved on, her now ex-boyfriend continued his effort to get her back, leaving voice messages, some apologetic, some verbally violent. Her friends started pressuring Dianne to press charges, but she refused.

“I felt a lot of judgment, and people telling me what they would do. You don’t know what you will do until you are in that situation.” It was around that same time that Ray Rice was in the news for assaulting his then-girlfriend. Dianne found people judging her too. 
“People were quick to ask, ‘Why is she staying with him?’ when they should have been asking, ‘What’s wrong with him to hit a woman like that?'”

Fortunately, Dianne was able to get out of the relationship, but that’s not always the case. According to statistics, an estimated 50 women a month are killed by former or current partners. About 75 percent of the victims were killed as they attempted to leave or after they ended the relationship. And while Dianne didn’t want to have her ex arrested, she did take precaution. His recorded messages along with photos that she began taking of her face since the night of the assault, were sent to her brother. That way if anything ever happened it was documented. Ironically, it was these same photos that Dianne began to show her friends when domestic violence conversations came up, and the same photos that she would eventually use for her For Colored Girls art installation.

"One day, I re-read the poem 'Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid Alla My Stuff,' and a light-bulb went off. This poem is about a woman taking agency over herself. If I was going to do justice to the work, I had to be authentic and talk about what happened.”

Dianne had already sketched out the visual element of her piece, now it was time to create a video component. She chose three. For the first, she shows photographs of all the stuff in her apartment, while reciting the poem ‘somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.’ In the second, she shares actual images of her bruised face, while reciting domestic violence statistics. In a third, she interviews a diverse group of girlfriends from throughout the Diaspora who share powerful stories of stuff they’ve given away, lost or gotten stolen.

Dianne’s installation premiered at the Schomburg Museum in New York, and showed at both the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Houston Museum Of African American Art.
Ultimately, she hopes that her work will continue to open minds, and show that domestic violence is not just a woman's issue. 

For more Dianne Smith, visit

Have you or someone you know been a victim of domestic violence? 

Erickka Sy Savané is the managing editor of, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in,,, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  

Grace Villamil, Artist

If you've had the chance to visit the Glossier Summer Fridays Showroom (if not, it's still open every Friday for the rest of the summer!), you've seen the immersive art installation that's taken over what used to be our conference room. It's called The Escape Room, and it's a multi-sensory experience, combining light, sound, smell, and feel into something that can only be described as complete Zen. The walls are covered in textured, silver Mylar, the floor is a mattress...we love having it. And we'd like to introduce you to the artist behind it, Grace Villamil. In her own words:

"I studied photography—I’ve always been a very visual person. Even in my earliest classes, when we’d be asked to present one photo, I would build some little thing instead. I’ve always been creating spaces. This one in particular was inspired by hiking in the desert in Venezuela, which happens to be one of the oldest geological structures in the world—so it’s like where the world began. We climbed this structure over a week or five days. It’s 16 miles up, and when you get to the top, it’s like black rocks. I really liked that kind of environment of it being completely black. Everywhere you walked there were these dark rocks. Other than that, there were these dark crystal coves. I was really inspired by all of it to recreate that feeling somewhere else.

I did that hike with one of my best friends named Fabiana, who owns the boutique Coming Soon. I built an installation of this kind in her store, and it lives there permanently. There’s also a permanent wall at Mission Chinese Food, and I did another installation at AThinPlace Gallery in Berlin, Germany—but the one at Glossier is very interesting to me. It’s very site-specific, and because this office is so female-centric, I took a bit more care in creating it. Instead of it being a massive public space, it’s more intimate, and it felt like we were making it a bit more beautiful, to be honest.

My studio is in Greenpoint—separate from my apartment. I use to keep the studio inside my apartment, but it’s helpful to have a space outside of it. Honestly, being a woman inside of your own apartment can be difficult if you’re trying to create stuff in the same space you rest, cook, clean, take a bath…I need a departure between it otherwise I get totally distracted. My home is very sweet and comfortable, and my studio has literally like no windows and feels very masculine, if anything. There are these high ceilings so that my brain can get very empty, and I can just work on stuff.

In the mornings, I like to swim. I’ll go to a pool in Williamsburg and do laps, or I'll go to the beach and swim out just past where the waves start. It’s so nice to get past the exercise and just float. I also like to take baths at home with just warm water and lavender salts.

Lately, I’ve been using a lot of Living Libations' Seabuckthorn Best Skin Ever. I have really intense energy sometimes and get reddish and irritated, so it just calms my skin down a bit. I’ll still break out like a teenager, so the combination of Seabuckthorn Best Skin Ever and Glossier's Perfecting Skin Tint reduces redness and covers just enough so that I don't feel like ugh. I don’t really wear makeup, but the Skin Tint in Medium is very, very light—it’s the kind of makeup I’ve always wanted. Before that, I was using Yves Saint Laurent's Top Secrets All-In-One BB Cream Skintone Perfector, which is good, but it's a little too thick for New York City summers.

You always have to have a different approach for each season. My hair used to be this amazing shade of light blue, but it was too much upkeep for the summertime. I did it in November because I wanted something that was more vibrant—a pick me up! I went to Lucille Javier at Sally Hershberger. She does an amazing job and made my hair so healthy instead of it being totally stripped. Sally Hershberger has these amazing shampoo and conditioners, and I discovered Shu Uemura's Essence Absolue there when they used it on me. That keeps your hair really healthy and shiny. I’ll probably dye it again, but pastels are just too much for me when it's hot out.

Beyond that, I really love wearing this Hermès perfume called Voyage d'Hermès. It smells delicious! I’ve been wearing it for like two months. I use to always wear Hermès Un Jardin En Méditerranée. I went back to the store to get that one in particular, but I was like, 'I don’t know, maybe I should switch it up.' It’s just a little lighter than Voyage, I think. It's also good for summer."

—as told to ITG

Grace Villamil photographed by Tom Newton July 16, 2015. For more artists, check out ITG's interviews with Ana Kraš, Petra Collins, and Ariana Papademetropoulos.

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The Artist Is Wearing Revlon

When Frida Kahlo died, her husband, Diego Rivera, locked her things up in a room in their Mexico City home, with the provision that they would not be disturbed for 15 years. They stayed hidden for much longer than that—'til 2004, when an exhibition of the artist’s belongings opened at Museo Frida Kahlo. Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako was invited to shoot the well-worn dresses and objects, and the resulting photos are currently on display at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. In addition to amazing hand-painted body casts and cat-eye sunglasses, two half-used bottles of Revlon nail polish make an appearance. Orchids To You was Frida's preferred shade, and I get a little thrill imagining her making this selection—did she pick it for the name? Did she, like me, take forever to choose a new color? In any case, it’s personal details that make legends more real to us, and this seems especially true when looking at the cosmetics of a visual artist like Frida, a woman who dedicated her life to aesthetics—whether painted, worn, or lacquered on nail-by-nail.

In light of this Frida-Revlon revelation, I was curious to look at a few other artists and their relationships with makeup.

Georgia O’Keeffe
In 1936, O’Keeffe was commissioned by Elizabeth Arden to paint a mural in her New York spa (the painting, "Jimson Weed," was done in the facility’s gym because Arden thought the unfurling forms would persuade clients to stretch). The two became friendly, and Arden eventually coerced the naturally beautiful O’Keeffe to sit for a makeover. The results horrified the painter, who washed her face immediately and likely high-tailed it back to the desert sans samples.

Shirin Neshat
The Iranian artist and filmmaker famously dons thick streaks of kohl beneath her eyes; there’s hardly a magazine profile about her work that doesn’t mention it. It’s a look that appears as much in Neshat’s portraiture as it does in her everyday life. In March, she told Harper’s Bazaar, “I never go out in public without it. I go to walk my dog, and I make sure I have my eye makeup on. It gives me a sense of security.”

Marilyn Minter
Minter’s work often references current trends in fashion and beauty, making her 2009 photo series for MAC’s glitter pigments a no-brainer commission for the beauty brand. A little brand-loyalty doesn’t hurt either; Minter’s preferred shade of lipstick? MAC’s Dubonnet.

Cindy Sherman
The chameleonic photographer also collaborated with MAC; in her case, the result was an ad campaign for MAC’s 2011 Fall Colour Collection (the very one that launched the brand’s ineffable Ruby Woo). Sherman assumed the guise of a curly-haired, over-blushed gamine and a brightly painted, slightly bored-looking clown to promote the line.

Helen Frankenthaler
The abstract expressionist painter found cosmetics useful to have on hand during fits of creative inspiration. Her 1956 drawing "Hotel du Quai Voltaire" was completed in a Paris hotel room on brown liner paper she’d pulled from a dresser drawer, using nail polish and lipstick from her own makeup case.

—Lauren Maas

Images via Getty and MAC Cosmetics. Read Stacey Nishimoto's mini-series, Art Now, featuring Mae Elvis and Jessica Dean Harrison.

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