By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
If you don’t know the name Naja Elon Webb now, commit it to your memory. A recent graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Webb has boosted her resume in a major way the summer between high school and freshman year of college at Cooper Union University.
From June 28- July 31 ArtReach Community Gallery in collaboration with Ellington will be presenting Webb as their inaugural solo exhibition artist at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC).
At 18, Webb has a profound understanding of female oppression, the topic she tackles in her series at THEARC, “A Scary Time to Be a Man.”
Through use of watercolor, ink, acrylic and colored pencil, Webb’s thought provoking series flips the script on gender roles by placing men in the same uncomfortable and oppressive situations women face daily.
Although she does not take her age into account in her work and accomplishments, it is quite an amazing feat for any artist- especially one balancing college applications, high school and normal life- to create 12 pieces in order to address female oppression.
“I don’t consider my age with relation to my accomplishments, so when I reflect on this occasion, I feel as though this is where I should be by right of my efforts,” Webb told the AFRO.
Rightfully earned through seven months of tackling a heavy and nuanced subject, Webb’s work will now be featured at THEARC 1901 Mississippi Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C., 20020, until the end of July.
In an exclusive interview, Webb shared the inspiration behind “A Scary Time to Be a Man,” how she approaches her work in general and what she hopes audiences will gain by attending her exhibit.
AFRO: What prompted you to do the series, “A Scary Time to Be a Man”?
Webb: My series is based on my lived experience as a young woman, and particularly a young African-American woman facing the societal ills of female oppression. This ailment evolves from a collective cultural mind-set that had become “normalized.” It is a global issue that must be remedied, and I am attempting to do my part through my art. I feel that everyone plays an intricate role in the development of healthy interpersonal relations among the sexes.
AFRO: What kind of artist do you describe yourself as?
Webb: I cannot put into words the kind of artist I am because my work is experiential. As an artist, I work to evoke strong emotions from the viewers. I want my audience to feel something when it encounters my art.
AFRO: Is this work combining art with activism? If so how?
Webb: Yes, the series calls attention to social conditions of women living within a patriarchal-dominant context. The pieces in my series blatantly address the female oppressors of objectification, sexism, and harassment in exaggerated ways, which are hard to ignore. Instead of women being depicted in compromising positions, men are the subjects of my pieces.
AFRO: Has anything personal inspired the themes found in this work?
Webb: All of my pieces are inspired by personal experiences. My awakening happened with my pubescent development, when adult men began to identify with me as a something. With the inanimate appointment, came the inappropriate comments, unwanted stares, and unwelcomed advances that can make one feel unsafe. My awareness only grew exponentially in a time of the “Me Too” and “Times UP” movements. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has been tolerated and even acceptable in many circumstances. Because countless girls have had similar experiences, I feel as though they can relate to the narrative in my series. But “A Scary Time to be a Man”is not just for women and girls, it’s for everyone to experience.
AFRO: Do you plan to explore this topic through art in the future? Are there any other social issues you’d like to explore through art?
Webb: Yes, I intend to continue exploring the female experience in a more global sense that connects with the mundane and grandiose ways in which women are marginalized. Other social issues of interests include colorism in the African-American community. I feel as though colorism is another open secret in our society.
AFRO: How long did it take to complete your series?
Webb: It took 7 months to articulate my ideas for the first 12 pieces in my series, though not fully. There’s still much to be said; this is a big conversation.
AFRO: What do you hope audiences learn through viewing your work?
Webb: I want my audience to learn that gender inequality isn’t something of the past and that it is still very relevant today. I want every woman and man who views my work to walk away with an experience that changes them in some small way that contributes to the social well-being of humanity. As women, we learn to be small and not speak our minds because doing so would not be “lady-like.” I want my series to be a voice for those women who have a hard time speaking out.
AFRO: Anything else you’d like to share about your work that I didn’t ask?
Webb: Yes, those who connect to my work can help sponsor my artistic development in pursuit of a higher education when they purchase my ART at NajaElon.com. They can also follow me on Instagram at sweet.watr. Thank you.