A mother is the first person to warn you that the summer sun is no good for your race. The first to tell you that your natural hair was “nappy,” and even though, as a child, you have no reference point for the aggression you have against yourself, it develops, slowly, like the milky nothings of a Polaroid until you grow and tell your own daughter when she comes in from the southern heat, skin ashen from the chlorine of the pool that she’s black—as an insult.
Magnolias is my first time speaking about the generational trauma that led me, as a dark-skinned black woman traveling back to herself; the reshaping of black feminine identity by black males, the organics of our own intra-racial conflict and the ways in which African Americans perpetuate the limitations placed on their skin within the diaspora.
Reach takes a deeper dive into the questions we have about ownership over African American blackness when we have no ability to trace our lineage, the realities we leverage and the orientation of appropriation. I’m exposing my own issues with racism, colorism, feeling invisible and unlovable as a darker woman on how it took me there to journey back to myself.
Ashley Johnson (Anj) is a photographer, mixed media artist, writer and creative entrepreneur living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Johnson graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2012 with Bachelors with English and Media Studies with concentrations in Journalism and Screenwriting.
Johnson began exploring fine art photography with her first portrait series WOVEN in the spring of 2016 where she used masked/wrapped faces and dying florals to document her conscious transition from commercial into more introspective and self-exploratory photography.
WOVEN gave way to Magnolias: a five-chapter portrait series speaking to Southern womanhood, acceptance, sisterhood and the perpetuation of colorism and intraracial racism within the African American diaspora. The chapters in Magnolias are also accompanied by original poetry and reflections from Johnson and emerging Southern writers. Magnolias challenges African American viewers to see their skin as a bonding agent back into their root selves and alongside other people of color, while offering viewers of other backgrounds a path into skin color psychosis.
Johnson considers her work mixed media by way of her hand-crafted weavings throughout the work as well as and seasonal florals and other flora, woven or braided masks that often infuse her portraits.
Johnson recognizes that her work is only one voice in the large narrative of African American identity. Through personal study of popular culture, race-relations, Southern womanhood, femininity and the evolution of blackness, through the lens of self-explorations, she tells these stories from varying perspectives through time.