New RSO helps artists of color express themselves
March 12, 2020
Nneoma Ohale, sophomore in LAS, speaks about her art with the kind of conviction that sends chills through the listener. It is this unshakable passion that has driven Ohale in building the new RSO In Living Color, alongside fellow creative and Club President Alayna Hester, sophomore in FAA.
Only in its second semester, In Living Color has already flourished into an exciting, lively community of diverse artists.
“We wanted to create a specific organization where artists of color could come together and become multidisciplinary artists,” Ohale said. “So it’s not just about, ‘You’re an actress, and I’m a poet, and we’re in the same club together;’ it’s ‘I’m learning from your art.’ So your art informs how I do my art. It’s about making sure you come out more well-rounded in your art than you did when you first went in.”
Hester has learned the value of being a multidisciplinary artist firsthand. A longtime student of theater, she found power in exploring the art of spoken word her freshman year as a new member of W.O.R.D.
“Every meeting they have an open mic at the end, so I wrote a piece to perform. I was so nervous, I was about to hop out of my body,” Hester said. “But after I did it, everybody was so positive. It made me feel a lot better about being vulnerable in front of people through my art.”
Hester and Ohale have strived to create similar experiences where artists can experiment with different mediums. One event they found particularly illuminating was a modeling workshop In Living Color cosponsored with The Kat Walk, a modeling RSO. Ohale found that learning about modeling gave her profound insight into performing spoken word.
“I already had ideas about what modeling was,” Ohale said. “But seeing the actual models there, showing me what goes into it — the concentration, the confidence — was really beautiful to me because it taught me even more about poetry. That same getting into character, that same taking a deep breath and becoming part of the performance, is the same thing that models do.”
The Kat Walk President Teara Morrow spoke on the valuable lessons modeling has to offer, to artists of all kinds.
“The art of modeling is an outlet for women and a breakthrough for one learning to love themselves,” Morrow said. “The impact the activity had on the participants was incredible because they got to see The Kat Walk fearlessly modeling, then explaining the fear they do actually get from walking, but they prevail and overcome.”
While experimentation and multidisciplinarity are pillars of In Living Color, there is a central, driving mission, regardless of art form: “telling stories through the art of performance for people of color by people of color.”
“I want to create a space where people of color can be vulnerable and tell their own stories from their own perspectives,” Hester said. “And we can be vulnerable, and we can be emotional, and we can be angry, and we can be upset. We can feel all these different things. That’s where In Living Color is rooted from.”
As a theater studies major at the University, it is not always easy for Hester to be vulnerable and comfortable in the classroom.
“Sometimes it’s just me and another girl that are the only black people in our classes,” Hester said. “So it’s a little difficult trying to navigate through that while still being open. A lot of times I can find myself closing myself off if I feel uncomfortable. But I’m challenging myself to stay open even in those moments and still pushing myself to tell the stories that I want to tell as a black woman.”
As an English major, Ohale can relate to how hard it can be to open up in class when she is one of few. In her poetry class, she said she is one of three black women.
“It can be difficult trying to present poetry in a space where you’re not sure if it’s going to be perceived a certain way, especially when the topic is blackness or black womanhood,” she said. “There are not many spaces where students of color can be themselves and can be comfortable and can relax and not code switch and not have to worry about how their blackness is being perceived.”
These shared experiences have made the two young artists passionate about creating a warm, welcoming space for artists of color, and they want other people to join them.
“We’ve created this space for you, and all you need to do is bring your best self,” Ohale said. “This is a space for you to learn and grow as an artist. Just think of when a singer comes out. They learn how to dance. They learn how to put together outfits. Think of yourself as a pop star. We are trying to help you become the best pop star you can be.”
Ohale said given everything art has given her, she knows she is an artist at her core.
“If everything fades away, I know I’m a poet,” Ohale said. “I’ll be a poet (until) I take my last breath. I’m not sure about everything, but I’m sure about that.”