Qualeasha Wood is an artist and third year student at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is also my friend. Qualeasha is one of the most passionate, outspoken and unapologetic people I know. She is sensitive and incredibly creative and honest about her truth. Her art is aesthetically pleasing, but it goes beyond that. Her art inspires, teaches, heals and awes all at once. I sat down with Qualeasha for an interview about her art and what drives her as an artist.
bluestockings: In 10 seconds, tell me about yourself.
Qualeasha Wood (QW): [laughs] My name is Qualeasha, I’m a Scorpio, I like Italian food. Um, I’m an asshole. I’m really sensitive though — follow me on Instagram. That’s really what I do.
bluestockings: It’s very accurate. Tell me about one of your art projects, whichever one you want to choose.
QW: Any one I want?
QW: I guess the selfie series is really important because I started it at the beginning of January, and that really kind of determined the work I was gonna be making for the rest of the year up until now. Like, it really pushed me to a place I didn’t know I could go.
Honestly, right before that, I was like, “Oh I don’t really think selfies can be art, ‘cause I don’t think people know how to properly make selfies art.” I would literally have these conversations and these arguments that, I don’t think someone just posting a photo on Instagram – just because they’re attractive, I don’t think that makes it art and that kind of just inspired me to be like, well, what can be artistic about a selfie? How do we talk about selfie-ing in a language that makes it artistic? And accessible.
bluestockings: Where do you draw inspiration from?
QW: Oh man (laughs). I draw a lot from childhood and like, just thinking a lot about how I interacted with the world as a child. I was [very] much at a point where I was shying away from my identity so like, how was I interacting then?
Thinking about my childhood as performance and how I was being told to perform. By society, friends, teachers, whoever. Being told, “you’re not being girly enough,” “you’re not being Black enough,” being too white, being too Black, too boyish. So, I draw from that a lot.
I draw a lot from – there’s this artist, Faith Ringgold, who has always been an inspiration for me because she’s a storyteller. And her work is very different but I’ve always admired her – especially with her quilts – it’s like a marriage of aesthetics and narrative. It’s something that you can choose to view as a beautiful object, but it also has a meaning. And I really appreciate that.
I like Deana Lawson’s work a lot because she works specifically with Black aestheticism.
I draw a lot of inspiration from Pornhub, which people think is really wild every time I say it. But like literally, for most of my life I never masturbated, I had no desire to, but I watched porn a lot growing up. I always watched it because I was very fascinated by it and like, what about porn [that] makes people tick.
Even seeing the Ebony category, I was like, I never want to open this category and this shouldn’t exist, and Black people being sexual shouldn’t exist. Because it just felt so shameful. Then I got older and I thought about that. Like, why does this still bother me? Because porn – especially for Black people – [is] so racialized and so fetishized and so sexualized. I mean, the term Ebony instead of just Black or African American is so loaded. Porn is designed to make you click on something. [It’s] commodifying Black people, essentially.
I needed to think about something that made me feel shameful and figure out why it makes me feel shameful, so I watched a lot of Ebony porn, and I thought about why is being Ebony a bad thing? Like, we’re strong and beautiful. I think that’s starting to come through in a lot of my work and in my work in the future. Like, beauty aesthetics, [the] reclaiming of titles and name, and stuff like that. So, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from there.
I draw a lot from nature, just natural objects. I hate actually being outside, but I love nature. But also like, the internet, with the internet being a fucked-up wild place where you can do whatever you want.
bluestockings: Nice. Okay, so why is art, especially your art, important to you?
QW: My art is important to me because I’m just so annoyed with whiteness and white people in art. I’m not doing anything new except like being comfortable in myself and that’s something that white artists have had the luxury of doing for centuries and [gotten] paid for it.
And they have the option to display raw emotion without backlash and have it be seen in a very public way and have it be received pretty well and I was like, “oh that’s so bullshit because I can’t do that”; [but] then I was like, “well why can’t I?”
So, I think my art is important, for me at least, because it pushes me and tells me that I can do anything, and I think it’s a message for my community. Art isn’t just limited to, like, classical painters. I feel like that’s the message that everyone gets growing up. Like, going to a gallery or to a museum and just seeing classical white views and you’re like, “that’s all art is and that’s all art will ever be,” and that’s not true. I think we should push the narrative beyond that.
bluestockings: Who is the target audience for your art?
QW: Always, Black people, but Black women at the top of the list and like, everyone else who can relate underneath that, and then people who support that. I think I’ve had a lot of conversations with Black women and other women of color who really like, resonated with a lot of things that I’ve been saying or a lot of things that I’ve been doing, but then I’ve had a lot of conversations with white folks who really have, like, thanked me and appreciated learning something from my art. But it’s not for them, it’s for Black women. It’s always for Black women.
bluestockings: How do your identities inform or impact your art?
QW: Um, well, everything is about my identity as a Black woman, sort of now coming into being a Black queer woman since I’m out now, it’s like, I try not to – I guess, over-push, one identity.
When you’re a Black person in the art world, you can’t do anything without it being labelled and racialized. Just automatically. Like, if you paint a flower, it would still be a Black flower. Whether I want my identities to come through or not, they’re going to come through, and I realized I should really just do it for myself.
Like, shit, if I’m going to get fetishized out here, I’m going to fetishize myself. I’m gonna appreciate my own identities and not let anyone else tell me how to display them, or what to do with them or [that] I need to go further, or I’m going too far. I just want to be as Black as possible. I spent so much of my life just being as non-Black as possible and pretending I wasn’t Black so like, everyone can kiss my ass.
bluestockings: What are some of the challenges that you face and maybe still face as a queer Black artist?
QW: Well, there is always the conversation that people have behind my back usually about me playing ‘the card,’ like, “oh, she only makes art about female Black identity,” or like, “[I respect] her identity but it’s all she has and all she does,” but I’m literally just trying to exist and you know, I’m just trying to learn different perspectives. Like, it’s my life and I’m just living my truth and people get so offended by me just doing that. So that’s always a big challenge.
And then, that’s the thing about being vulnerable. Like, you’re wearing your identities really proudly as well as trying to be so strong, but you’re just sensitive and soft and you’re baring your soul for all the world to see. And it’s supposed to be an empowering thing but sometimes there’s a lot of emotional turmoil that you go through within yourself and it really takes a toll on you .
bluestockings: Do you think that art, or your art specifically, has a role to play in the world?
QW: In a general sense, I think art is supposed to help facilitate change and acknowledge problems in the world. I think, my whole plan with my art specifically, is to really inspire and contribute to like, a new wave of what beauty is and what’s essential and who gets to make art.
Like, the art world right now is so euro-centric and it’s so white and it’s so elitist and it’s so high-class. And I feel like, it’s just impossible to enter into it without selling yourself out. That’s something I don’t want to do and I just think that by being myself and pushing these narratives and these images out there, that I can make space for what Black people are allowed to do. I feel like Black people get separated into these categories when it comes to art, like, we’re allowed to paint or we do textiles or we illustrate, but it’s all very specific kinds too, like “Black art” that’s very much the same across the board.
It also all comes down to accessibility, which is why I have such a strong Instagram presence. I want my work to be something that anybody can see and anybody can relate to and understand, and I don’t want it to feel elitist or like, closed off.
I think that the more [that] that’s pushed in the universe, the better the art will be for Black people in general. I’m just hoping that my work opens the door for a lot of people and like, inspires a lot of people to be happy and challenge what art is and who gets to make art. I guess I want to make the world a more accessible and aesthetically beautiful place.