Black History Month has come to a close, but Women’s History Month comes in major clutch to also celebrate and give influential Black women their flowers. As creatives seek ways to pay homage to Black women, Brooklyn multimedia artist Melissa Sutherland Moss has become the talk of the art world due to her new collage series, “First Lady.”
The collage series showcases a plethora of Black women — famous names and women in Melissa’s family — highlighting their stories of defying the odds stacked against them to influence future generations. The series includes the portraits of American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou; singer, actress, and activist Eartha Kitt; American politician and author Shirley Chisholm; Melissa’s late aunt, Sister Delfina Sutherland and many more.
Even though the collage series is beautifully crafted, it’s much more than creating an aesthetically pleasing project. Melissa shares that the “First Lady” collage series is all about the importance of retelling the stories of Black women and preserving Black culture.
“The ‘First Lady’ collection explores and celebrates Black women but also places importance on creative storytelling and the preservation of Black culture,” Melissa says. “Throughout history and across the diaspora, Black women have been responsible for trendsetting firsts and impressive cultural shifts that changed our world for the better. In the face of gender and racial bias, they have broken barriers, challenged the status quo, and fought for equal rights for all. It is critical to remember these women by retelling their stories of how they made society what it is today — during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and all year-round. The ‘First Lady’ series pays homage to women across the globe who have crafted possibilities in a world that have denied them opportunities.”
The collection features images adorned with jeweled clusters that directly signifies glamour and luxury in Black culture. “There is rich history and culture of Black women adorning themselves in jewels regardless of socio-economic status,” Melissa says. “First Lady, which portrays an assembling of brightly toned jewel and diamond clusters that are intense and visually stimulating; symbolizing wealth, status, and membership within my culture.”
Aside from the “First Lady” collage series, Melissa has been instrumental in helping creatives find their footing. As co-founder of the sk.ArtSpace — alongside Symone Wong and Jarryn Mercer — the trio has created a safe space that helps foster community, support, and collaboration.
“My partners and I created sk.ArtSpace with the intention to serve as a safe space for creatives of color to express themselves in an environment that understands and works to preserve the integrity of their craft,” Melissa says. “Within that space, we curate exhibitions with the goal of redefining cultural narratives and sharing unique aspects of the Black experience.”
As sk.ArtSpace continues to grow and serve the arts community, Melissa shares that the trio created the “sk.collective” which consists of a group of artists, curators, and art enthusiasts who work together to support and promote the work of every member of the collective.
For folks that are well-versed in the art world, sk.ArtSpace is a Godsend. Since it’s no secret that Black artists are largely underrepresented in museums, Melissa shares that the platform serves as a space for creative of color to find a sense of hope. That said, Melissa hopes to continue her work and be able to foster change.
“My goal is to create an Artist Residency and mentorship program for Black women artists,” Melissa says. “I believe that Black women who identify as creatives benefit from spaces and opportunities that are tailored for them to hone in on their skills and expand.”
Check out the “First Lady” series at the Biggs Museum in Dover, Dela., the Ely Center of Contemporary Art in New Haven, Conn., and on social media.