Embodied: Asserting Self


March - December 2017

In 2016, Lisa DeGrace, the executive director of Blue Sky Gallery, noticed that many of our scheduled exhibiting artists were using photography to engage these questions of self, belonging, and the body from standpoints outside of dominant standpoints outside of dominant cultural narratives. We created Embodied: Asserting Self exhibition series to have the opportunity to explore these questions more fully.

The camera is a powerful tool that, in certain hands, can magnify power dynamics and ultimately deny subjects the agency to control their own representations and identity. However, the artists featured in Embodied assert ownership of experiences that have either been ignored or misrepresented in dominant culture. To further shift perspectives and perceptions, these artists are also bending strict definitions of photography, incorporating performance, drawing, painting, collage, and direct manipulation of the image to reinterpret traditional portraiture. In short, each artist is using photography to embody the reality they wish to see.

Nakeya Brown, The Refutation of Good Hair

“Each photograph I compose is a reflection of my female identity positioned within hair politics, hair rituals, and black culture. The scope of my work reconsiders racialized beauty standards and defines the bountiful actualities of African American women. Pulling from past memories and observations, I use photography as a tool to navigate the influence of race and gender in shaping perception and representation.”


"The work continues today and will continue as long as lives are lost from racism and police brutality. I shoot in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. I’m asking Black men and women to join me in protest. Contact me and join your voice with mine. Rest in power my fallen brothers and sisters."


”As important recollections slip from our memory, this loss brings its own kind of grief. The past becomes a vast, blank territory where even the most important memories from childhood are erased - if we do not remember them, perhaps these might as well not have happened in the first place.”

Ima Mfon Nigerian Identity_Untitled_22.jpg

“A lot of times Black people are not necessarily portrayed in the best light in the media. I wanted to create pictures that had a sense of pride and elegance to them.”


“Relationships, real or imagined, are at the center of this work. Growing up queer, I searched for a history that spoke to me—included me. In my family history, there were no couples that mirrored my own intimate relationships. That didn’t keep me from imagining such couples.”


“Within each image, ghosts of previous drawings create a sense of time suspended, evoking gesture, atmosphere and memory. Photographs allow me to access the extraordinary, to keep a record of dreams, and to employ the unforeseen.”

In addition Blue Sky published an exhibition companion reader in conjunction with the embodied series. This exhibition companion reader is for sale at the gallery.
A Word of Thanks from Lisa DeGrace, Executive Director
Introduction by Zemie Barr, Exhibitions Manager
Interview with Ima Mfon by Dr. Derrais Carter
Essays by Zemie Barr, Ashley Stull Meyers, and Jennifer Rabin

The Embodied exhibition series was made possible by a visionary gift from Arlene Schnizer and Jordan Schnitzer. Other contributors include Agnes Gund, (w)here Real Estate, Kit Gillem and Deborah Horrell, Lane Powell PC, the Oregon Community Foundation, and the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation.