Love That For Me at SOCO Gallery, Charlotte

By August 08, 2022
a Black woman's hands feature small tattoos, stacked rings, and a full set of bejeweled hot pink acrylic nails
Ariel Dannielle, Fresh Set, 2022; acrylic on canvas, 11 by 14 inches. Courtesy the artist.

If you a Black girl, if you a Black girl

If you a Black girl, if you a Black girl

If you a Black girl, if you a Black girl

Do your thing

Pardison Fontaine, “Hoop Earrings”

The first time I saw Ariel Dannielle’s work was on Instagram about a year ago. You know how that goes. A quick glimpse. Scroll down. Back up again. Like. Save. I told myself I wanted to revisit what I saw but then life started life’n. Fast forward to June 2022, I’m preparing to open an exhibition at the Mint Museum Uptown when I receive a visit from a SOCO Gallery rep. She arrives with two Black women, both of whom look more like folk I know than folk I would see with a rep from the traditional white cube gallery. Both women have unmistakably Southern accents, the behaviors of young Black women in the twenty-first century, and the intelligence of women who’ve been in the arts for a while and know what they’re talking about.

In that moment, I met Ariel and her best friend. Two women in a new city in a New South that is not Atlanta. What could she possibly be exhibiting here in Charlotte? And at SOCO Gallery on Providence Road in the historically traditional and stuffy Myers Park neighborhood?

Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art at the Hunter Museum through January 8th
Ariel Dannielle, Smile For Me, 2022; acrylic on canvas, 8 by 8 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Easy. Her life. What she sees. Who she’s with. The mundane, in-between moments that are never highlighted when it comes to Black Americans—especially when it comes to Black women. Love That For Me is located in SOCO Annex where you’ll encounter four paintings by Dannielle. One painting showcases her nails dotted with Sailor Moon details, another depicts a close-up of her teeth with little gems adhered to them. Her pointer finger holds down the corner of her lower lip to expose the candy-colored jewels, more than likely fashioned to reflect her colorful personality. A classic pose for those of us who wear gold grills in the American South.

Ariel Dannielle, Shot Time!, 2022; acrylic on canvas, 30 by 24 inches. Courtesy the artist.

In a self-portrait, Dannielle holds a bottle of Casamigos tequila. In another painting, we see her and her friends getting ready to go out for the night through the reflection of a bathroom mirror. While viewing these works, memories of similar experiences brightened my day. When going out was a thing for me, I remember getting ready with girls to go have fun at the club. Is it an act of resistance and self-love to paint an image of your friends doing something normal? Absolutely. It’s also a universal experience that many women of color, not just Black women, have had.

In an article published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dannielle states she wants to paint images that make her happy, that celebrate what Black joy looks like to her in the moment. And to be honest, I love that for her, for us. There are too many moments where Black pain is on display for the masses to ingest. Couple the pain with tragedy as another story of police brutality against Black bodies or the collective mourning after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the continued illumination of inequitable treatment of Black bodies in the American healthcare system. Shit. Even little Black girls can’t get a high five from Rosita at a Sesame Street parade. I’m tired of seeing this. Again and again. That’s someone else’s projection of Blackness, while my gaze remains on us and how to create joy through the pain. Like the subject in Dannielle’s painting I Dream of Crimson Nights, featured in the AJC article, I just want to be able to pull up to a sushi restaurant and mind my damn business. Alone. Because I like sushi.

Ariel Dannielle, Come Get Ready At My Place, 2022; acrylic on canvas, 54 by 62 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Black feminist theorist Tina M. Campt offers one definition of the Black gaze, describing it as a theory of what Blackness brings to making and viewing art. What do we see when we look at each other? What kind of gaze is that? In her depiction of intimate and carefree moments, Dannielle’s paintings remind me to breathe and celebrate my Black womanhood. It’s all about that Black gaze when I see her paintings because they fall perfectly within this contemporary renaissance of Black art and culture. I define it as flipping the table to show the world how we see each other in the present, as opposed to previous African American iconography that evokes white guilt from viewers.

Dannielle’s paintings do not celebrate Black materialism as informed by American popular culture and reality entertainment. They are reminders that Black girls being Black girls doing normal shit is good enough. Dannielle has successfully created a space where a Black girl can do her thing. I love that for her.

Love That For Me, an exhibition by Ariel Dannielle, was on view at SOCO Gallery in Charlotte, NC from June 15 – August 3, 2022.

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