“Waze” and “When You Feel Safe to Be You”
Vanessa Scheff is a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. She earned an honorable mention for Fine Art in the Fall 2020 Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Scholarship program.
In her student statement she wrote:
My hair is natural. My hair is political. My skin is natural. My skin is political. My speech is natural. My speech is political. There is no such thing as apolitical. My current work leans into the liberatory nature of watercolors to bloom, blend and bleed, in the same way people of color carve out spaces of freedom within oppression. Rather than controlling watercolor in its typical use and resisting the effects of water with the page, I seek these moments of liberation within the medium. I am intrigued by the interaction between artwork, artist, audience and society, and the role of these interactions in advancing social equity. When I taught myself to paint, I found that the stories of women of color (WOC) were left out of many fine art spaces. In response, I focused on painting WOC in watercolor to contribute our faces and our stories to history. After a year of painting solely WOC, I began to explore abstraction as a rebuttal to the expectation I felt as a black artist to create figurative work solely about identity-based struggles. By experimenting with shape, color and gesture, I realized I could express my own story and ideas in a deeper, more nuanced way through a conversation with abstraction than through portraiture alone. My first solo exhibition at Philadelphia’s Urban Art Gallery centered around the importance of celebrating within struggle through watercolors, sound and poetry. Last year, I performed a piece at both The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Affordable Art Fair NYC, challenging how women of color occupy space in an improvised, immersive moving “painting.” I translated my watercolors into projections which “painted” the walls of the Barnes Foundation and the Institute for Contemporary Art centering WOC empowerment, and spoke at the American Association for State and Local History conference where I used watercolors, music and oral histories to challenge attendees to consider who we learn history from and what stories we choose to preserve. I have created independently my whole life and as a full time profession for the past 3 years. This year, I applied and was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design for an MFA in Painting having no formal training in art. I am very excited to deepen my expertise of watercolor, engage in conversation with a new network of artists, expand my vocabulary for conversation and strengthen the connection my art has to social action throughout the program. Professionally, I seek to pursue performance of sound and movement in connection with watercolors, using immersive technologies to invite the audience to step inside the paintings. I also look forward to developing as an educator to work with young artists on strengthening their connection between voice and medium. Coming from a low income family, funding my education has been the major barrier to pursuing a degree in art. It is very exciting to be realizing my dream to attend art school as a self taught artist and I am grateful for your time and consideration in supporting this next step of my artistic career.