Five Minutes With Ann Johnson, Artist & Activist Behind “She Matters”

by Hannah Buettner on March 20, 2019 in Entertainment, Art, Living Texas,
00 Smith Pain Remains The Same Cast fabric bronze e1553093696604

“These women matter.” Ann Johnson’s new exhibit is not just a title— it’s a statement. Her new exhibit at Texas A&M University, “She Matters,” is an opportunity for women of color to tell their stories and showcase their talent.

Originating out of the group show titled “How Do I Say Her Name?” in 2017, “She Matters” is a continuation of the response to the news of the Sandra Bland arrest in 2015. Participating artists in “She Matters” include Regina Agu, Rabéa Ballin, Ann Johnson, Autumn Knight, Lovie Olivia, Kaneem Smith, Rosine Kouamen and Monica Villarreal.

A graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Johnson is currently an Associate Professor of Practice at her alma mater. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and the International Review of African American Art. Born in England, but raised in Wyoming, Johnson’s work passionately explores issues in the black community, and has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Women & Their Work in Austin and the California African American Art Museum in Los Angeles.

We sat down with Johnson to talk about curating “She Matters.” The exhibit will be on display at the Wright Gallery at Texas A&M University until April 26th.

What was your initial spark of inspiration for “She Matters?”

A person once told me, “Use your creativity as activism.” So many unarmed people of color who lost their lives in 2015 and beyond, particularly women you don’t hear about, inspired this show.

“Case Number 02-F-00151” by Rabea Ballin, a contributing artist to “She Matters.” Courtesy photo

How did you come up with the title, “She Matters?”    

“She Matters” is a quote that was coined after the death of Sandra Bland — a 28-year-old African-American woman found hanged in a Texas jail cell after her arrest for a traffic violation. Although this exhibition is not specifically about Sandra Bland, she is an important part of the exhibition, as are the numerous known and unknown women we have lost—and are still losing today. These women matter.

How were the artists selected for this exhibition?

These are artists that I am very familiar with, and I knew that this group would present work that they are very passionate about. I knew this group of artists would take the subject matter personally.

Each artist uses her independent discipline and preferred medium, which includes fabric, plaster, glass, neon and more. What brought you to the decision to include artists with various disciplines and mediums?

This group of artists works conceptually, which causes the viewer to really think about the the work. As artists of color, we are emotionally attached to the cause and movement.

“The Narrative” by Ann Johnson. Truly a mixed media artist, Johnson’s concentration in printmaking makes an appearance in many of her works.
Courtesy photo

If your viewers take one thing from this exhibit, what would you want it to be?

Don’t look at the work. Look into the work, and be open minded to another person’s fear and struggles.

What are you looking to do next?

I have an upcoming exhibition with Kaneem Smith this fall, and I am currently curating an exhibition at Prairie View celebrating the legacy of Lucille Bishop Smith.

“She Matters” is on display at the Wright Gallery at Texas A&M University, College Station until April 26th.

Cover photo Kaneem Smith, “Pain Remains The Same.” Courtesy photo

 Hannah Buettner is a student at Texas A&M University. When she’s not studying, she’s catching up on her reading or perfecting her homemade pasta recipe.