Busta’s Person of the Week: Endia Beal is a picture perfect

Endia Beal

Busta’s Person of the Week: Endia Beal is a picture perfect
March 07
00:00 2019

By Busta Brown

Her name is artistic and unique – Endia. Her personality is a mixture of sweetness, confidence, strength, intellect, boldness, humor, humility, and rebellion. But her rebellion has a purpose. “Commercials tell you what to think; art supposed to make you think. And as artists, we don’t make work to please. It’s about making work that needs to be in the world,” Endia said with a very confident smile.

This black girl really does rock. I was in awe of her intellect and unapologetic love for the arts. “Essentially, art is not supposed to make you comfortable. It’s to make you feel uncomfortable, so you can question your own insecurities, your own prejudice, your own ideas,” she said.

Endia Beal is the director of Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University and associate professor of art. In 2013 Beal graduated from Yale School of Art with a Master of Fine Arts in Photography degree.

Her experience at Yale prepared her for the corporate world. “I got a job at a corporate IT (information technology) space and I was the only person of color in that space. I found that I had to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I was the elephant in the room and it became this conversation where people were talking about me, but they weren’t talking to me.”

She laughs and then jokes about some of the comments she had to deal with from white women: “Girl, how did you get your hair to do that? Can my hair do that?” I said, “Why don’t we try it,” Endia recalled. And she did just that.

Endia is a very talented and creative photographer, with a vision that puts her in a category of her own.

After the conversations with the white women asking about her hair, there it was, a bold and unique vision that only Endia Beal would try. She did a photo series entitled “Can I Touch It?” She photographed white women in their 40s and gave them hairstyles that black women wear. “The purpose was to question conformity. When I go to interviews and I have an Afro, I never get the job. People assume that I’m militant. I asked the women what happens if we made you the other for a moment and I assumed these white women didn’t know what I was talking about. I was wrong. Not only did they know, but they also understood and had their own stories as women and their own testimonies. So making the ‘Can I Touch It?’ was really a collaboration to question conformity within these corporate spaces that are not really designed for women of color. ‘So Can I Touch It?’ was my way of using humor as a way to address that real issue.”

Beal’s next vision came after some of her students at Winston-Salem State University shared their negative experience with job interviews. “They would come and say I went to this interview and they asked me if that was my name, and if I didn’t mind changing my name, or they questioned my hairstyle and asked if I wear it like this all the time. One student was asked how many kids she has and how old are they. I found that my students were experiencing the same thing I experienced and my mother experienced within this larger dynamic of employment.”

From those conversations came the birth of her work, “Am I What You’re Looking For?” The New York Times did a story on this phenomenal work. Beal said most of the photographs and stories were of Winston-Salem State students. “I went to the home and towns they grew up in and photographed them in their home. So we created a larger conversation about their fears and insecurities. The girls and I collaborated and took a risk in putting ourselves out there, ultimately to create a larger conversation, and hopefully address issues that other young women and universities are dealing with as they transition from this academic setting into this corporate space. It was a larger platform to give the students a voice to talk around conformity, around employment discrimination, things like having to change your name in order to get an interview and being questioned about things that are illegal. So that is what ‘Am I What You’re Looking For?’ is about.”

As director and curator of Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State, the associate professor of art brings artists and exhibits that speak to the experience of the students. “When many of my students come into the gallery, they’ve never been to a gallery in their life. So for me, it’s my job to make sure that you’re comfortable at The Louve in Paris, France, or The MoMa (the Museum of Modern Art) in New York City. Wherever you’re going, you came to Diggs first and had an intellectual experience with art, you brought your own subjective truth, so when you go elsewhere, you realize your voice is what gives the art life.”

Her work experience also includes the Southern Center for Contemporary Art, the Connecticut Center for Arts and The New York Times Magazine.

Check out more of my interview with Endia Beal on our winstonsalem Chronicle YouTube channel. Professor Beal shares some of the past and upcoming exhibits at Diggs Gallery. You’ll really enjoy one of my favorite moments during the interview, when she lights up when I asked about her husband and son. I love her son’s name, I’m sure you will too.

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