Growing Up Black Growing Up Wanda – Exhibition

Growing Up Black Growing Up Wanda – Exhibition

Exploring race, beauty, sexuality, and identity, Wanda Ewing’s (1970-2013) art is as relevant today as when she created it. Exhibited for the first time at the Union for Contemporary Art, Wanda’s thesis book (completed in 1997 at the San Francisco Art Institute), Growing Up Black Growing Up Wanda contains both visual and textual documentation of the obstacles/experiences she encountered as a young woman of color growing up in Omaha. The unabashed frankness of image and text imbue Wanda’s work with a raw power and freshness that continues to resonate with viewers.

Growing Up Black Growing Up Wanda is the start of her journey of discovery, love, and acceptance of what it means to love yourself, understand how you look in & at the world, and how to pave your way in it. There will be a show of this work, opening the weekend of Oct 14, 2022, in Omaha, NE, at these three galleries: RBRG Gallery, The Union, and Gallery 1516. We will have a book for sale of her early work, a showing of her Senior Project, “The Book – Growing Up Black Growing Black.”

We will be selling her book for $40 each during the show at The Union. The sale of her book will go to her scholarship at the University of Omaha. This scholarship helps undergraduate art students with supplies, tuition, and books.

Opening the weekend of Oct 14, 2022
RBR G Gallery
The Union For Contemporary Art
Gallery 1516
Omaha, Nebraska

Threads Laid Bare – Exhibition

Threads Laid Bare – Exhibition

Threads Laid Bare is on view at the Anderson Gallery at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, from September 3 – October 16, 2020.

This exhibition brings together fiber and textile artists from around the country who use the medium to reveal identity, showcase a high sense of craft, and promote community. It features contemporary artists working in a variety of fibers and textile processes ranging from the conceptual use of threads to functional stitches. Artists blend drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and video with textiles and fibers to produce works that tackle issues of race, disability, stereotypes, immigration, heritage, and religious and domestic rituals.

Participating artists include Indira Allegra, Anna Carlson, Ann C. Clarke, Nicole Davis, Wanda Ewing, Jiseon Lee Isbara, Guen Montgomery, Cynthia O’hern, Katya Oicherman, Catherine Reinhart, Sophia Ruppert, and Alanna Stapleton.

Over the course of the exhibition, Threads Laid Bare will discuss the gendering and hierarchy between fine art and craft, educate viewers and explore textiles and fiber techniques, and promote community building through accessible events and activities.

Anderson Gallery at Drake University
Des Moines, Iowa

Wanda Ewing Prints – Exhibition

Wanda Ewing Prints – Exhibition

RBR G is proud to present a collection of prints by the late Wanda Ewing.

Opening Reception: Friday, March 13th, 5-9pm

The exhibition runs from 3/13/2020 through 4/4/2020.

Gallery Hours: Wed-Sat 10-6pm

The majority of the prints featured in this exhibition are woodcuts. The Bougie Girl series, The Shape of Things (Dress) series and the 100 Hairdos series will all be included, as well as a wide variety of other prints.

Wanda Ewing was a north Omaha native and was a prolific artist that created thought?provoking artwork exploring the subjects of race, beauty, sexuality and identity.

Ewing was influenced by folk-art, and the lack thereof, of African-American women in popular culture and the art history. Within Ewing’s career, she represented the connection between autobiography, community, and history – often with a biting, comical edge.

Roberta and Bob Rogers Gallery
1806 Vinton St, Omaha, Nebraska 68108

Happy Heavenly 50th Birthday!

Happy Heavenly 50th Birthday!

Jan 4th would have been the big 5-0 for you. As I write this, I wonder what your life would have looked like, what your art would have been like in these past 6 years since you passed. A lot has been going on in the world as I’m sure you are seeing from above. How would your art reflect the MeToo Movement? How would you have reacted to “grab them by the pussy” comment from #45? 

As you also know many of your friends and former colleagues have taken time to write funny, loving, and insightful blog post about their relationship with you. You have touched a lot of people in many different ways. Including the number of students who you have taught. One of your students, Samantha G. is now an art teacher at Benson High School. Your scholarship at UNO has awarded $7,000 to art students who needed help to finish their degree. That money comes from donations and from the sale of your artwork. 

I think you know this, but I will tell you anyway – I miss you a lot. I think about you just about every day. I wonder what dreams you would have created for yourself as you think about turning 50. 

This will be the last blog on your website. I want to thank each person who wrote something about you. It was great to read about their memories of you, your artwork, and the friendships. I want to leave everyone with an email that you sent one of your friends – you were asked to write a reflection of your work. I hope we have done good by you – keeping the spirit of your work and heart in the right place.

Email Sent: March 13, 2008

When I reflect on the images of the wallflower pin-ups and the magazine covers, I can’t help to feel incredibly selfish.  It’s really about confronting my own insecurities by creating these visual vehicles that allow me to exorcise my demons from adolescence.  Beauty is at the core of it all.  How we definite it.  How I define it.  My wallflower girls are definitely an extension of what I had always hoped a part of me would be like – fun, sexy, playful.  I have to admit, I was the textbook wallflower all through my pre-teens to college.  Never the girl to be asked to dance (sigh) and I quickly became pretty self-conscience about it all.  However, my wallflower prints are definitely not shy or shrinking violets.  They embrace themselves fully without apology.  I learned a lot from them.   Another note about the pin-up girls, I think pin-ups are sexy.  That may ruffle some women’s’ feathers because the pin-up genre is a male construct which objectifies women.  But that is such a loaded conversation to have.  I mean, how many women take sexy photos for their husbands or dress up sexy when they go out for drinks?  The line in the sand is always shifting as to what is exploitative depending on who’s drawing the line.  I see my girls as powerful and sexy.  Formally, I love floral patterns and color.  Using the old wallpaper was the perfect solution for a background.  They’re printed on a square format, referencing a box.  That box refers to what we do as human beings with having the need to categorize and place everything and everyone neatly into their box.  My girls are placed in this space not of their own will but are saying ‘No problem.  I can exist in here, but I’m going to own it as well’.   Funny thing about the pin-ups, though.  I’ve received more complaints from Black women.  Isn’t that ironic?!  As if I were creating derogatory images of black women.  And then we’re back to the line in the sand. 

My magazine covers were very fun for me because I got to do a little writing.  That’s something I’m not great at but enjoy doing.  Again, this is about beauty and the beauty industry.  I also raise the question about what black is and what it isn’t.  I’m hopeful to not sound judgmental about the society we live in.  I have my degrees of materialism and superficiality for sure.  But there are extremes and beauty magazines prey on women’s self-esteem.  They’re constantly telling you that you need to be fixed.  And the real burn is anymore, the women smiling back at you from the covers don’t really look like that in real life.  The images have been enhanced digitally creating a false and unobtainable standard.  So, making up my own magazine called Bougie made sense.  I’ve been called it a few times in my life and to be honest, I’ve never thought I could be accurately described that way.  However, this was a great chance to fully embrace my superficial side and just get shallow.  It was fun!  I may try to flesh out some of the tags I made up like ‘Are You A Strong, Black Woman?  Find out in 25 questions.  I mean really, what would those questions be?  Even funnier, it’s being implied that if you answer add up to x amount, you could be a strong, black woman without actually being black or a woman.  I’m going to have to try that out.

The opening went really well thanks.  I overheard a couple of people talking as they were looking at the magazine covers.  One person said, ‘Is she an artist or a comedian?’.  I should write a book – ha, ha! I’ll talk to you soon!



Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist
Writing About Wanda

Writing About Wanda

Written By Timothy Schaffert

The first time Wanda and I got in trouble together was with the Aug 14, 2003 edition of Omaha Pulp, a short-lived alternative newsweekly.

Aside from the publisher, Pulp had 2.5 staff, and we all took on multiple identities to people the paper with contributors. Our art director wrote music reviews as a critic named Dirt; we used a 1970s-era photo of my mother in a beehive to serve as astrologist for a horoscope written by my boyfriend; our advice columnist was Baby in a Walnut Shell, a little plastic doll (inside a plastic walnut shell), bought off some Japanese novelty shop on the internet.

Wanda’s sensibility fit perfectly with ours, and we featured Leslie Prisbell’s profile of her as our cover story: the cover image was “I Have Big Lips,” a linocut from Wanda’s autobiographical book of large-scale images, Growing Up Black, Growing Up Wanda. The image — a portrait of the artist with her eyes closed but her grin wide and toothy – captured much about Wanda’s personality and vision. It was a tribute to caricature and cartoon, while also analyzing stereotype at the same time; but mostly it was a celebration of beauty and confidence, alive with Wanda’s charm, delight, sharp wit, and talent. (In Wanda’s characters you can see her appreciation for comic book art, with influences ranging from “Friday Foster” of the early 1970s, to the work of R. Crumb, to the fashionable characters of Jackie Ormes.)

But what got us into trouble was what was inside: we published her linocut of a black body and a white body in a naked embrace, and this led to the loss of a few vital advertisers. And Wanda spoke frankly (and in fascinating detail) in the interview about how she’d put herself through college as a phone-sex operator. When the article appeared, Wanda was called into her boss’s office at an Omaha artists’ residency for a scolding – she ran the risk of offending the board of directors, she was told. 

Here’s a quote from Wanda, in Leslie’s article, about how she reconciled her job in the phone sex industry with the feminist perspectives of her art:

“Eventually I had to quit [the job as operator]. I didn’t like the way that it made me feel towards men… You think, ‘Am I exploiting women, am I getting the customer all juiced up so that they can go out and do the thing they’re talking about?’ You can’t even begin to allow yourself to think that you are… You have on the one side these women who say, ‘I’m just using these men; they’re pathetic,’ But then you hear some of these fantasies and think, God, this guy really hates women.”

Whenever Justin (aka Dirt), Pulp’s art director, sent the paper’s layout off to the printer, he shouted through the offices “Shut it down, motherfuckers!” and we were off to La Buvette in the Old Market for bubbly. Wanda became a regular at our table, and our group’s conversations which crawled late into the evenings inspired me to write my third novel, Devils in the Sugar Shop, in which a character named Viv does artwork much in the vein of Wanda’s:

Her art tended to make people nervous… ‘You should do more of those pretty shoes,’ Viv’s mother had told her. For a time, Viv had made lithos of the designer shoes she’d splurged on one summer to console herself after a wicked breakup – python slingbacks, calf-trimmed pumps, fur clogs, kitten-heeled patent leathers. She’d had prints of a pair of Ferragamos and some Bettye Mullers and some pink leopard-print Claudia Ciutis in shows around town…  [from Devils in the Sugar Shop, 2007]

Wanda, in real life, did do some lithos of shoes, but the reference above is really to her series of prints, “Big Woman Little Dress,” inspired by dresses she bought during a love affair. Again, a quote from Leslie Prisbell’s Pulp article: “I was dating this guy and I bought these dresses because I wanted to look sexy for him. I was feeling sexy, and I was having sex, and it was wonderful. And he broke it off. Just out of the blue. And very rudely, I must say. When I look at these, it’s like a journal of the relationship. It’s also about the form. There’s definitely a figure in these, a body. Hips, belly. I like that.”

Wanda’s affection for fashion, for style (she did artwork based on jewelry too), and how it all informed her life, and how it informed culture, and conceptions/representations of race and gender, led her to create art that was both commentary and revelry, criticism and indulgence. I had the opportunity to write the gallery notes (excerpted below) for “Bougie,” her exhibit at the Sheldon Museum of Art at UNL, which featured a series of covers for a fictional women’s magazine focused on beauty standards:

Ewing portrays women in the act of posing, women possibly conscious of their degradation yet nonetheless seducing us with their self-confidence. For Ewing’s women, the beauty myth becomes just another beauty mark; politics likely seem silly to these cutie-pies. And yet the politics of fashion are what give Ewing’s work its sinister and satirical bent. Just beyond the coy winks and the toothpaste-peddling smiles and curve-hugging skirts of these fine black women is the sense that the images aren’t just about them. Caught up in it all is the photographer, or the art director, or the advertiser, or the pornographer, or the doll-maker, the various co-conspirators in the invention of glamour. All unseen, their shadows drop between us and the artwork, darkening the humors of the women on display. [from “Bougie” gallery guide]

My partner Rodney Rahl and I, in the backyard of our home in West Omaha, premiered another of Wanda’s series on beauty, race, and sexuality: plywood portraits of black women in classic pin-up-girl poses. She eventually called the series “Black as Pitch, Hot as Hell,” but at the time she’d only just finished the pieces and hadn’t named the project yet; as a matter of fact, she was finishing them during the show, with her hammer and chisel, carving into the plywood, touching up the paint. It was a windy day, and we spent a fair amount of time chasing the 48”x48” pieces every time a breeze plucked them from their easels.

Even when not writing about Wanda directly, I find our work still dovetails today, her perspectives on fashion, on gender expectations, on sex and sexuality, on pop culture, on race, on body image, all intertwine with my own as my characters evolve. I’m still very much in conversation with my sweet, gorgeous, brilliant, inventive, magnificent friend. As I thumbed through Devils in the Sugar Shop, to summon Wanda’s spirit to step forward, step forward she did… as I read the line “the sound of the sleet that salted against the windowpanes,” I realized I was hearing that exactly, against my windowpanes just now, as winter arrived.

Wanda Ewing, Artist
Wanda Ewing, Artist

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