Introducing Esoteric Lore, a new collective for art and empowerment

The closing reception for Esoteric Lore's exhibition at Auburn Avenue Research Library is on April 30, 2011. Photo courtesy Esoteric Lore.

Esoteric Lore is a collective of female African American artists from across Atlanta who are focusing on rebuilding the image of black women in the United States. Members such as Taryn Lee Crenshaw, Corinne Stevie Francilus, Nikita Gale, Michelyah, Crystal E. Monds, Iman Person, Faatimah Stevens, and Elizah Turner are seeking ways to, as worded on the group’s blog, “counter the revisionist history behind the black female experience.”

That’s a powerful outlook for starting a new women’s collective. Media institutions like MTV, VH1, and BET consistently present negative images of African American women as “heffas,” “hos,” and rich scaliwags on a daily basis. The saddest part is that many young African American girls and women in the U.S. are constantly exposed to this media-ghettoized, hyper-sexualized female image. Esoteric Lore aims to dispel this monolithic stereotype through an investigation of arts, literature, and music.

When I first heard about them, I chose to attend the opening of their exhibition, Esoteric Lore: Visual Storytelling, in the Cary McPheeters Gallery at the historic Auburn Avenue Research Library. The opening was the beginning of a month of planned events including literary readings from local writers and poets, a community arts workshop, and a night devoted to local female musicians.

The exhibition also served as backdrop for several related events, including workshops and performances by local poets and musicians. Image courtesy Esoteric Lore.

Upon entering the space, I was instantly captivated by Iman Person’s hanging installation. Her small, hanging sculptures reflect her belief that all life on Earth came from a generous mother, represented by a red, curvy, womb-like shape hanging at the top. Smaller “wombs” hang underneath the center, their tan bodies peppered with reds, blues, and grays. The work reminded me of how Eva Hesse’s sculptures used organic materials both as a way to compose and enhance the installation.

Elizah Turner’s short documentary is an intimate reflection on the significance of black hair, a constant theme in the art of African American women. The video displays her going through a normal hair routine mixed with a virtual potluck of scenes sampling the full diaspora, from the African woman to her American counterpart. After viewing for a while, you notice the contrast between the women with Americanized, straightened hair and the hairstyles of indigenous Africans. Meanwhile, the artist continues gazing into the mirror to manicure her large, coily afro.

Altogether, the young women of Esoteric Lore are examining the social and psychological complexities laced throughout black women’s history. By using their combined knowledge and the power of art and word, they open a space for healing, celebration, and self-exploration. Among the goals listed on their website, the group seeks partnerships with academic institutions for using the visual arts as a tool to engage students. With a desire to make art that is both visual and intellectual, Esoteric Lore explores a black womanhood that doesn’t perpetuate the media’s model of self-hatred, but one based on self-love and empowerment.

The exhibition, Esoteric Lore: Visual Storytelling, continues at the Auburn Avenue Research Library through April 30, 2011. For more info, please visit the Esoteric Lore blog.


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Comment(7)

  • Virginia
    April 26, 2011 at

    So True Taryn. I cannot think of any better way to foster understanding than through the medium of art. Keep repeating the message. People will eventually get it!

  • Yvonne
    April 26, 2011 at

    Well said, Taryn

  • alice wonder
    April 25, 2011 at

    proud to call you sister, taryn.

    and zena, i consider you family as well. peace + light.

  • Ekua
    April 24, 2011 at

    Rock on, Taryn. <3

  • Taryn
    April 23, 2011 at

    “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
    – Audre Lorde

    It seems as if some prior frustrations are being taken out on this article. And I encourage what is necessary to heal that place inside that has excited such negativity and misunderstanding. I am the founder of the Esoteric Lore artists’ collective and exhibition. At the heart of both is a movement meant to inspire healing and connection between all people, regardless of race, gender, and other social divisions. I implore the writer of the pervious comment to remember the impact and context that history has set. Particularly living in the south, where legacies of oppression and hatred of difference have pervaded the very ground we walk on. The past, present, and future are connected. We are ALL irrefutably and necessarily connected.

    It was our goal to be able to speak this connection and on humanity as a whole, concentrating on its most “minimized” entity. We use Black women as the focal point because it is with out a doubt that the Black female has been the most marginalized, commodified, and exploited figure in history. This is not to undermine other oppressions, but rather to see the intersections between them. One cannot successfully begin to critique race without speaking to gender, class, sexuality, (dis) ability. We live in a world of social constructs that determine hierarchal structures of privilege. With the European aesthetic seen as the only standard for beauty and white patriarchy the lead in globalized power, women of color are highly subjugated in all arenas. From business to mainstream media to politics to art- women of color, particularly women of color who are situated outside of mainstream imagery and agenda, are institutionally less noticed and often invisible. It is simply for this reason that I was humbled and grateful to Burnaway for choosing to write about us- for choosing to represent the whole of the Atlanta art scene, which we are apart of. Empowerment comes out of being able to see holistically and to actually implement this into our interactions with one another.

    I am also grateful to your post, Zena. For it is because of such misunderstandings and misnamings that gives purpose to the work of Esoteric Lore. The artists of this collective are doing more than just making art. We are utilizing art of all forms to highlight the beauty in difference and the necessity in this day and age to make connections with those who are both similar and dissimilar from ourselves. If we can begin to see ourselves in one another, Zena, we can more readily and accessibly change this world just simply by changing our individual perspectives. With that said, I have respect for you speaking your mind and sharing what you passionately felt. I consider you to be my sister as I do with the women in my collective. I encourage you to see the artwork and spend time at the historic Auburn Avenue Research Library. Actually, I will be more than happy to do a personal walk through with you and any others who may feel your sentiments. Mind you, it is not my aim to change minds. I am not responsible for your growth and expansion- that is up to you and your path of life. I only wish to connect and engage. Peace and blessings, always *

  • Carla
    April 23, 2011 at

    This is the kind of comment you decide to leave for an online magazine that is devoted to showcasing Atlanta’s growing art community? Ma’am. Please take your racist comments elsewhere. We do not cater to such individuals and your comment is very disrespectful to Burnaway altogether. I do not apologize for my review of Esoteric Lore nor will I apologize for the fact that Atlanta is the second largest African American community in Atlanta.

    Your angry white woman privilege is something we ALL can do without. We welcome any comments that will spark a wonderful discussion. But I will not stand for comments like yours. I hope you have a great day and even better life because it seems to me that COLORED FOLKS make you nervous in a city that has quite a lot of people of color.

    Thank you for your comment, GA Comcast user. If you still have a problem, come find me and talk to me about it instead of posting nasty things.

  • Zena
    April 22, 2011 at

    I am so tired of all the groups in Atlanta that cater to African Americans ONLY. It is racist and discriminatory. It was not “empowering” before and will not be now nor in the future. If anything, this is the mindset that is hurting African Americans as much as the label, African Americans. If there were 1/10th as many White only groups in Atlanta there would be a huge outrage, as there should be. Why the double standard? Artists of all people should be above this stupidity.

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