Colorism unites women of color at “I AM: The Procession” tomorrow

Kimisha Turner, Seattle artist and convener of "I AM: The Procession," with her son Malcolm. (Photo by Byrd Waters)
Kimisha Turner, Seattle artist and convener of “I AM: The Procession,” with her son Malcolm. (Photo by Byrd Waters)

Birth and death may be two of Kimisha Turner’s greatest muses.

“In the past couple years, I had a son who is 4 now, and I lost my parents,” Turner explains while packing up some of her art installation in one of Camp Long’s cabins at an annual Arts in Nature Festival this past weekend. “Those … events changed my life completely. It made me look inside myself for everything. Being an artist, I have to express myself somehow.”  

Though Turner has exhibited as a professional mixed-media artist for 15 years, the loss of her parents in 2013 and and birth of her son Malcolm in 2014 forced the Seattle artist to begin an in-depth spiritual journey of self-love. What she has been processing for these past few years inwardly has manifested outwardly in magical installments celebrating an ancestral womanhood. One is the aforementioned cabin-based installment, she just finished exhibiting, “I AM: The Alchemist,” which features mannequin goddesses wrapped in mosaic tiles and an otherworldly painting that is her own version of a tarot card. A bubble machine and a cabin porch where viewers can sidewalk-chalk their wishes creates a playful ambience.

Kimisha Turner presented her installation, "I AM The Alchemist" at Camp Long this weekend as a preview of her "I AM Procession" installation tomorrow.
Kimisha Turner presented her installation, “I AM The Alchemist” at Camp Long this weekend as a preview of her “I AM Procession” installation tomorrow. (Photo by Mahroo Keshavarz)

This is just a taste of what Turner’s unveiling this Thursday, Aug. 25: a procession tomorrow of 50 to 75 women of color she’s expecting to take on a half-mile journey tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Entitled “I AM: The Procession,” Turner’s “Part II” in a series of three interactive art projects, is a literal procession and guided meditation from Daejeon Park to Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). Two meditations throughout the walk will be guided by Seattle mystic and spiritual leader L’Erin Alta and poet/artist Anastacia Renee Tolbert.

In a statement, Turner described this interaction as “an acknowledgement and opportunity for women affected by colorism across multiple communities of color.” 

“It gives us an opportunity … to walk in solidarity because the issue of colorism isn’t brought up very often, and it really does wreak havoc on many, many, many communities: Asian communities, Indian communities, Black communities, of course,” Turner says.

She wants participants to both understand that all women of color are hurt by colorist and can heal from it, realizing “that we are beautiful goddesses,” each with their own story. Woman of color who join are encouraged to wear royal purple, blue and gold and partake in a royal treatment of flower petals and water sprinkled at their feet.

This slow, deliberate journey culminates in a release of butterflies to signify transformation.

Turner, 35, says she was born an artist in Olympia, Wash. For the past 15 years, she pursued the path of a professional artist, graduating from Cornish College of the Arts with a degree in printmaking and photography in 2004, then exhibiting regularly at the artist coop and coffeehouse Faire Gallery in Capitol Hill, which closed in 2012. (She credits former Faire owner Elisheba Johnson for giving her that big break). 

Growing up Black, Korean and mixed-race, Turner was bullied as a child when she lived in Redding, Calif.

“I had kids spitting in my jacket at school. They called me names like ‘high yellow’ and other names that did not make me feel great,” Turner remembers. “I felt like I was not good enough, not Black enough, [not] Korean enough,  and I had low self-esteem.”

Event promo photo originally from Archives.org under a Creative Common License.
Event promo photo originally from Archives.org under a Creative Common License.

Turner remembers asking her mother to get her skin bleaching cream to feel more beautiful. In her adult years, and now 35, she began meeting more women who struggled with the same identity and self-love issues stemming from colorism and wanted to create a project for woman of color that not only made them feel like their best selves, but show that they were not alone in their experience. She also felt around this time in May 2015 that she wanted to contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, but wasn’t sure which avenue of activism best fit her artistic gifts. More importantly, Turner felt that the issue of colorism amongst women of color needed to be voiced alongside the movement.

So many communities are dealing with it, being obsessed with being lighter and more pale. We have to do something about it,” she says.

Yet she didn’t know if this would resonate with some of her close artistic collaborators and friends Rachael Ferguson and Taryn Rene Dorsey, both members of the all-female, all-Black punk band NighTraiN.

“I really have experienced a lot of colorism issues in myself, and it was kind of scary to bring it up to my girls, but they immediately jumped on it,” Turner says, laughing.

Last summer, the three jumped on a program partnership opportunity and call for project proposals NAAM released to fill their 2016 program calendar. By August 2015, Turner, Ferguson and Dorsey were notified that their proposal was accepted. With about half of the $3,000 project dollars crowdfunded, and in-kind marketing and venue sponsorship from NAAM, the team was ready to go big.

Flower petals, butterflies, and all.

Turner plans on holding a monthlong exhibit at NAAM showcasing photographs, videos and artist responses from “I AM: The Procession” and is working on the next installment of the series, “I AM: Alien,” which she hopes will be up by fall 2017. 

Her next message to the world?

“It’s OK if you’re an alien, because everyone else is an alien, too.”

More details about tomorrow’s 11 a.m procession can be found on the Facebook event page. 

Keep up with Kimisha Turner and learn more about her work at www.kimishaturner.com

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