Brandon Harris: So what can you tell me your background, your education and your artistic style?
Lynthia Edwards: I have a graphic design degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta. I have an undergrad degree in art education from Auburn University Montgomery, and my Master’s in art education from the University of Alabama Birmingham.
My artistic style is all over the place. Today I’ll be painting, but I may get a wild hair and go create a quilt. And then I’ll go to do collage, and then eventually come back around to painting.
And it’s just really about how I feel, or what I have time to create. I’m a mother of a lot of kids, so it just really depends on what I’m doing at that time and the time that I have set aside to create. Because for me, creating is life. Art is my life. It’s my heartbeat, I breathe it. And so, it’s my way to communicate. For me to be in a space where I can’t [create] is like taking the breath away from me. If I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, then it may be the start of a quilt. If I have to sit at the kitchen table and watch my children, I’m gonna have to create some works on paper or something small. So whatever it is I’m doing is based on where I am in my life at that time. So that’s why I’m all over the place.
Can you tell me about your inspiration for your art?
I’m inspired by the everyday, ordinary black girl raised in the south. I’m inspired by the culture of African Americans in the south, specifically Alabama. I’m inspired by the civil rights movement. And I’m inspired by black Americana. How we are viewed, or how we were viewed in America, pre- and post- slavery.
Can you talk about being a black girl in Alabama and how you view yourself and others, and how you want your work to be seen?
Yes, I was born and raised in Alabama. And I want to create works that tell the story of the black girl experience in Alabama, and more. How we have evolved, and what we what we’re doing now. How our culture is reflected in contemporary art. How the things that we do naturally as African American girls in the south, how our existence in our everyday simple [acts] of existing is reflected in today’s society, or what’s actually going on currently. I just want the works [to be] big and beautiful and for people to see them and inquire about the work. And then, it causes them to have a dialogue amongst themselves about, who she [the girl in the work] is and why she has that on, or why is she doing that. [My work] just basically gives them a backstory to who we are as African American girls raised in the south.
Because your work deals heavily with identity, I would like to know how you see yourself as an Artist and a person?
Umm, how do I see myself? I’ll just tell you who I am or the things that make me. The things that make Lynthia… I’ll start from the beginning. One: African American. But before I learned that I was African American, I was Black. I was born in ‘78, so the identity of who I was, was Black–not colored, not Negro. I came along when my skin tone was identified as black, and I’m comfortable with that. I am a black girl that was raised in the South. I am dirt roads. I am plum trees. I am big yards, chickens. I am Southern foods. I am pig’s feet. I’m neck bones. I am collard greens. I am butta beans. Tomata sandwiches. I am watermelon. I identify with those things, and I identify with those things, proudly. I am a Black girl with a strong religious background–Pentecostal. I am coarse hair. I am a straightening comb. I am a big ol’ comb. I am hair that shrinks when it’s wet. I am hair grease. That’s the Black girl that I am.
Your art often confronts colorism. Can we talk about how colorism affects the Black community and how people are hurt by it at a core level that many don’t really recognize? And how your art at least looks it in the face genuinely?
Okay, let me try and figure this out [laughs]. I’m very familiar with the different sayings, beliefs, and stereotypes when it comes to colorism. I experienced those things. As a little girl, it was more so like “she’s the dark one,” or my hair not being the right texture, or my hair being finer than my sibling’s hair. And my lips being dark. Me having more slanted eyes and things of that nature, people calling out different things that they see about you, that they themselves have an issue with. You don’t really know to feel those different ways about yourself until people start to point them out. And I have to say that, for me, it’s bothersome to address individuals who are like that. And my work basically hits it head-on. I want my images–if I’m going to create them black, I want them to be black. If I’m going to address them as being colored, they’re going to be colored… they’re going to be several different colors. If I want them to be brown, they’re going to be the darkest shade of brown possible. So for me, I just want my work to, as you say, “confront it” in the sense that you’re either comfortable with it or you’re not. And if you’re not comfortable with it, then why are you uncomfortable with it?
A lot of times [the focus on colorism] is not intentional; it’s just more a play on one color, and the colors that I see in [African American] skin tones. Like strong, strong hues of orange, or maybe a brown person with a reflection spot that’s orange or a neon. I just try to use color to kind of downplay the whole idea of colorism and how people tend to view each other, or tend to view the image I created and form an opinion.
See an overview of the TVMA’s exhibitions with Black Southern artists (on display through April 2, 2021), followed by audio of our interview with Lynthia Edwards.