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‘Sex Crimes Against Black Girls’ Exhibit Uses Art to Confront Incest

‘Sex Crimes Against Black Girls’ Exhibit Uses Art to Confront Incest
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines | February 21, 2011

Last week, I checked out “Sex Crimes Against Black Girls,” a multimedia art exhibit that tackles many forms of sexual abuse black girls endure in the African Diaspora. The work, which will be at Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plazauntil April 2, was rich, provocative, and in some cases, quite pretty. But, because I’m a nosy writer, I was most intrigued by its curator, Shantrelle P. Lewis. For her day (and all-night) job, the New Orleans native directs programs and exhibitions at another organization, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. But the 32-year-old chose to use her free time and psychic energy to find works by black and Latina artists that address the knotty subject of intra-racial sexual violence. Lewis, an incest survivor, was kind enough to sit on the phone and explain why:

Tell me how “Sex Crimes Against Black Girls” came about.

It came about in several ways. In grad school, I read “The Permanent Obliquity of an In(pha)llibly Straight: In the Time of Daughters and the Fathers, an essay by [literary critic] Hortense Spillers that deals with the treatment of incest among African Americans in literature. I was struck by how she put it within a larger context of racism and socioeconomic oppression, not just as [individual] pathology of black men or because black men have so-called issues. That spoke to me as a black woman who uses art to educate people, and as someone who was molested.

Can you talk about what happened?

I was abused by three family members, between the ages of 7 and 9. It happened at relatives’ houses, when no one else was around. They took advantage of me, but I didn’t tell anyone until after Hurricane Katrina.

What made post-Katrina the right time to speak up?

Well, the flood brought so many community issues to the surface—poverty, police brutality, violence and high levels of intra-racial prejudice because of the color caste system. And for me, personally, Katrina brought my sexual abuse to the surface. I finally told my mother.  (Read more)