Friday 28 May 2021

Black Maternal Health Week

Our next blog post from the students of the module 'Race and Resistance' is by Leanne who is looking at Black Maternal Health Week: 

For four years, Black Maternal Health Week has taken place during a week in April. Founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (, it is a week dedicated to raising awareness about African American’s maternal health and the maternal mortality rate for African American women in the United States.

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention DC website, 700 women die each year in the United States of something related to pregnancy. However, African American women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women and therefore, this impacts them more significantly. The CDC also states that through research, up to half of these death are preventable. What is down to being a racial bias that continue to withstand today.

How did this issue begin?

During slavery, white people believed that Black people, including African American women, felt less pain, and this was used as a way to justify the treatment of black people during slavery. This idea was further established with the use of African American’s for scientific experiments. 

As stated in the book titled Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens, “Enslaved women played a central role in the advances made in gynaecology by early pioneering gynaecological surgeons, like Dr. Charles Atkins, who believed in the physical superiority of black women to bear pain easily.”[1] During slavery, “these men held fast to their belief in black women’s physical strength and ease in childbirth.”[2]

This resulted in the idea that black women were able to withstand pain more, particularly when it came to pregnancy and birth during slavery. Due to this misconception and belief constructed during slavery, this idea has now been carried into the 21st century and impacts African American women today in the form of racial bias which is through a bias during medical treatments. 

Many African American women have experienced being ignored, treated incorrectly, and particularly, have experienced being undertreated for pain. That is shown through so many more African American women dying in relation to pregnancy and childbirth, compared to white women, when research shows that up to half of these deaths are preventable. 


What can I do to help?

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance website provides information to educate people on this issue happening in the United States today. They provide literature suggestions, including books as well as articles and there are also ways to get involved through events. By the Black Mamas Matter Alliance website providing resources for people to access, to educate themselves and get involved, it raises awareness and by creating events for people to join, it provides a community for support too. 

These are ways to resist, to help all African American women impacted, to save lives and to put an end to this issue happening in the United States.

1. Cooper Owens, Deirdre. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2017). Pp. 9-10

2. Cooper Owens, Deirdre. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2017). Pp. 10

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Bisa Butler: Reclaiming lost identities through the traditional craft of quilt making

Here is our next blog piece from our 'Race and Resistance' module by student Emma on her essay on Bisa Butler: 

“I realise how much of a responsibility you have as an artist. You are a reflection of our times, so whether you are a writer, a dancer, a filmmaker, painter, sculptor, you’re reflecting the times you live in and after you’re gone all that is left is that reflection” – Bisa Butler (2020)

The act of quilt making, particularly within African American communities, has been deintellectualised over the centuries due to its connections to feminine domesticity and their practical everyday use. As a result they have not been widely utilised in the research of African American cultural history. However Bisa Butler is striving to remove the stigma from this once devalued artform by harnessing skills which has been passed down to her throughout the generations and reclaim African American histories. 

Bisa Butler’s maternal family originate from New Orleans and Ghana on her paternal side, she lives in New Jersey and began her artistic journey as a Fine Art student at Howard University. Under the tuition of her professors she learned the principles of the AfriCOBRA movement (African Commune of Bad and Relevant Artists). Founded in 1968, AfriCOBRA’s work intersected with the Black Power movement, but with a view to bring about change by celebrating Black identity, creating their own aesthetic to encourage empowerment within communities opposed to political revolt. Defying European standards they adopted the AfriCOBRA ‘Kool-Aid’ pallet, which utilised bright and vibrant colours paying homage to African traditional art and fabric, removing the requirement for white paint. Inspired by her teachings at Howard, Bisa Butler makes use of ‘Kool-Aid’ pallet of bright oranges, yellows, crimson reds and intense blues, to create distinctive pieces which inspire, intrigue, and encourage further observation. Her works have recently been displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and has successfully recently held her first solo museum exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits at the Katonah Museum of Art, New York.

“When Black people see my work, I’m hoping that they see reflections of themselves, like a mirror, but the self that you want to be and the self that you really are. And I hope that when White people see my work, they understand that Black people are just like them as well. I’m hoping that people find that connection and feel this connection to humanity in general” – Bisa Butler

One of Butler’s story-telling pieces which hopes to return lost identities is Four Little Girls, September 15, 1963 (2018). The life-size appliqué quilted artwork depicts four smartly dressed girls in ‘church attire’, playfully positioned each with their own unique character defined by the individual colour schemes used for their faces and clothing; separately expressing happiness, innocence and a whole life of hope and possibility. 

Four Little Girls, September 15, 1963, 2018

Cotton, silk, lace, appliqued and quilted; 154.9 x 198.1cm (61 x 78in.)

This quilt depicts Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, who were victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama terrorist bombing attack by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963. The four girls were killed and twenty-two others injured. However, instead of depicting this violent act of terror, Butler has represented the girls as an act of memorialization giving them the opportunity to “joyously thrive where black resilience reigns” (Ko in Warren, 2020:55). 

Butler’s colourful interpretation of characters in all her works breathe life and positivity, whilst creating stories for those who have previously been ignored or forgotten. Carefully selecting fabrics for their individual meaning and widely utilising traditional African fabrics and patterns in all her pieces, she creates links to cultural heritage; during this process she also combines American stories and people upholding the AfriCOBRA principles. As a result Bisa Butler produces thought provoking artworks which are faithfully African American, which will leave a legacy for future generations to tell the African American side of American life.

Further reading:

Bisa Butler (2021) [Instagram] Available at:

Katonah Museum of Art (December 2020) Art Institution of Chicago - Bisa Butler: Portraits (Exhibition Stories). Available at:  

Katonah Museum of Art (2020) Bisa Butler: Portraits – Virtual Exhibition. Available at: 

Smithsonian American Art Museum (2020) Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture: Bisa Butler. Available at:

SOK Vision (2020) Quilting for the Culture: Bisa Butler, 06 June. Available at:

Warren, E (2020) Bisa Butler – Portraits. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Friday 21 May 2021

The Art of Emory Douglas and Asali Gayle Dickson in the Black Panther Party

On our MA module, 'Race and Resistance' (AMAS7019B), which is about theories of race and strategies of resistance within the Americas, our students have written blog pieces on their essay ideas! 

Here is our first one, written by Charlotte, on the Art of Emory Douglas and Asali Gayle Dickson in the Black Panther Party: 

The Black Panther Party remains to this day a cornerstone in black American history. There were many facets to its resistance of socioeconomic and cultural power structures: armed citizens’ patrols, community social programmes, and public rallies designed to inspire and educate black citizens to name a few. One other such facet is art.


My essay will explore the artwork of the Black Panther Party during the period 1965-1975, assessing how art was used as a form of resistance (particularly in its portrayal of African American women and their resistance to dominant power structures). The focus is on the work of Emory Douglas and Asali Gayle Dickson: the party’s Minister of Culture and a lesser-known female Black Panther artist, respectively. 


Artwork from both of these artists featured in the party’s newspaper The Black Panther, which at its peak reached some 400,000 readers. Functions of the paper included spreading the party’s ideologies, sharing Black Power theories and promoting the party’s 10-point-program. Illustrations provided by Douglas and Asali (more so later on; Asali’s prominence increased as the gender dynamic within the party improved) aided the communication of these, the more expressive format being easier to digest for a readership which struggled with low literacy rates. Indeed, Douglas argued that revolutionary art “gives the people the correct picture of our struggle whereas the revolutionary ideology gives the people the correct political understanding of our struggle.”(1) The art, therefore, was an essential form of resistance for the black power movement, and one that was relied upon heavily to communicate with everyday Americans. 


Let’s highlight one particular image (a personal favourite of mine), depicting a mother holding her child while armed with a shotgun; a work from Emory Douglas published on the back cover of an issue in 1971. It is extremely striking in its use of the bright, bold yellow set against the deep black outlines - grabbing the attention of readers and drawing them into the message of the image. Douglas noted in an interview that we couldn’t hardly afford but one color ink. So, it was black plus one other color to get that bold broad look,” meaning that his most iconic images are simplistic in the sense of their colour palette, yet it is the message they convey that has the most impact. (2)


While the party had a complicated relationship with misogyny and sexism within its ranks, the paper went to great lengths to resist dominant myths and stereotypes surrounding African American women. Many of the images featured within its publications were of women, particularly mothers, but did not sexualise, trivialise or minimize their role in the resistance movement. Linda Lumsden argues this point: ‘the newspaper’s imagery was a striking contrast to popular culture stereotypes of black women as self-sacrificing mammies, sexual objects, or emasculating matriarch.’(3) Indeed the image contrasts the traditionally passive role of motherhood with the violence associated with a weapon like a shotgun, playing with existing stereotypes of women. Here the reader is able to equate the power of a gun to the powerful nature of a Black Panther woman and it portrays mothers as strong defenders of their children. Additionally, Lumsden argues that ‘Imagery of women with guns… upended the notion that

Panthers equated gunmanship with masculinity.’(4)


1. Emory Douglas, To the People and All Revolutionary Artists: On Revolutionary Art,’ (The Black Panther newspaperVolume 4, Number 8, January 24, 1970) [Accessed:] [Accessed: 20/4/21]

2. Victoria L. Valentine, Emory Douglas: ‘I Was the Revolutionary Artist of the Black Panther Party,’ (, 2019) [Accessed:] [Accessed: 20/04/2021] 

3. Linda Lumsden ‘Good Mother With Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther, 1968-1980,’ (Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol.86, No.4, 2009) p.905

4. Lumsden, 908