A Small Nation of Women

Mary Ellen by Sameena Sitabkhan
collage. Courtesy of the artist.


“Allegories, Renditions, and A Small Nation of Women” at the Yale Divinity School, Curated by Khaleelah I. L. Harris and Teri Henderson at Yale University’s Divinity School.

Who gets to participate in society? Will your voice be heard? Will your opinion matter? What opportunities are available to you? Throughout America’s history, the answer to this question depended on race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. For post-emancipation Black women, freedom from slavery did not translate into a place in society. How did they make a place for themselves in the world? In 2020, as the world went into lockdown, Khaleelah I. L. Harris, who would otherwise be preoccupied with her Master’s Degree work, found herself with the time to consider these questions. She began an in-depth investigation of African-American women’s history. The results of her inquiry is the exhibition, “Allegories, Renditions, and A Small Nation of Women” which runs 18 October 2021 to 28 January 2022 at the Yale Divinity School.

Ric Kasini Kadour previews the exhibition in Kolaj 34. To read the full article SUBSCRIBE to Kolaj Magazine or Get a Copy of the Issue.

Seeing Is Believing by Khaleelah Harris
collage. Courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition “examines African-American Women’s History, Christianity, and the citizenship project of the turn of the 19th century. It examines the way that African-American portraits can reveal the machinations of elite Black and mixed race 19th and early 20th century women. Through this exhibition, we aim to visualize what the archives could not capture and depict the particular way in which they sought full citizenship through identity formation practices in post-emancipation U.S. They existed as Black renditions of constructions of Womanhood that depended on their contorted existence, and they were a small burgeoning nation of women.” The exhibition features nineteen collage artists each of whom use archival photographs of Black women to speak to the lives and experiences of women.

For There is Hope of a Tree (If It be Cut Down) by Alicia Saadi
collage. Courtesy of the artist.

For Black women, the Christian project and the opportunity to emulate that prototypical woman moralized them, feminized them, and helped them become “American citizens”.

—Khaleelah I. L. Harris

Khaleelah Harris holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Bethune-Cookman University; an MA in Religion from the Yale Divinity School; and is currently pursuing an MA in History at Howard University. Harris is also a Du Boisian Scholar and was a 2019-2020 W. E. B. Du Bois Fellow at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is a semi-professional found photo collage artist and centers her involvement in the arts world around curatorial work with visual art exhibits that create visual narratives for her research. Her research interests for college art include African-American Women’s Religious Experience, African-American Women’s Social Clubs/Organizations, Historically Black Colleges; Southern Life and Beauty Culture. Her research investigates the project of identity formation/self-making and taste-making practices for upper/middle class Black Women of the late 19th and early 20th century, nuancing the ways in which these particular acts determine how this group of Black Women enacted beautiful experiments with their lives. Learn more at www.khaleelahharris.com.

Teri Henderson holds a BS in Psychology from Texas Christian University. She previously served as the Art Law Clinic Director for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts. She was published in the St. James Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Culture. Her work as co-director of WDLY addresses shrinking the gap between the spaces that contemporary artists of color inhabit and the resources of the power structures of the art world through the curation and artistic production of events. She is also the Gallery Coordinator for Connect+Collect Gallery. In her work as a staff writer for BmoreArt, she highlights the voices of Black, brown, queer and non-traditional artists and creatives. She is also the founding director of Black Collagists, an arts incubator designed to research and collect the work of Black collage artists internationally. Learn more at https://bmoreart.com/contributor/teri-henderson.