May 2024

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Exploring Art and Identity with AFH Alumna Jahnae Wyatt

Artists For Humanity Open Studio June 2024 featuring AFH Alumna Jahnae Wyatt

Whether she is sleeping amongst the clouds, deep conditioning her coils, or wrangling kittens, artist Jahnae Wyatt documents her internal and external life while blending the line between reality and fiction. Leaning into themes of femininity, hair care, and bodily autonomy, each painting in her current collection is a still moment, a method of peering into her past.

“A lot of my work is like journalism for me. I always try to incorporate, or integrate my soul, my personality, and my personhood into my work.” —Jahnae Wyatt

AFH Alumna Jahnae Wyatt artworkJahnae Wyatt artwork "Kitty Committee."

Wyatt always wanted to be an artist, and so when she heard about Artists for Humanity (AFH) she realized that this would be the place that would open doors. She applied in 2015 when she was 15 and ironically had no intention of becoming a painter.

During her time at AFH, Jahnae started to fall in love with the process, leaning into the often meditative ritual of applying a color wash and mixing colors on her palette. As she continued her journey of self discovery and technical growth at Lesley University, the stillness and quiet time in between painting—waiting for the paint to dry before applying the next layer—became an important restorative action within her practice, both artistically and as a method of self care.

Juggling health issues amidst the pandemic, coping with the passing of loved ones, and grappling with the aftermath of witnessing a fatal car crash all within a two-year period, Wyatt pushed forward. She listened to her body and her intuition, realizing that the pressure to create work that was performative or overly complex was not necessarily the route toward success. Sometimes, the most effective route towards true connection is capturing the human experience—starting with yourself.

“With my thyroid [condition], I was fatigued and I said, you know what? I can't keep up. I can't be loyal to content about beauty. I have to focus on internal work. So, I started to paint myself.”

When documenting her human experience, by stepping through the looking glass, painting a moment in time, and exploring methods of self care through palette and paint, she received pushback during critiques. When she began to delve into imagery surrounding hair care products, she found herself having to explain to her fellow students how and why she applies oil to her hair or uses headwraps.

AFH Alumna Jahnae Wyatt artworkJahnae Wyatt artwork (L to R) “I’ll just go ahead and put a headwrap on and call it a day” and "Wash-Day Eve.”

“It felt uncomfortable because all my peers were white women. I thought why do I need to educate them on stuff they can just 'Google' themselves, yet at the same time, I thought this is art. So, I’m discussing what’s going on because they just don’t know. When I finally unveiled the definition of my [art]work, it wasn’t enough content for them.”

This left Wyatt frustrated, wondering why it was acceptable for a classmate to discuss their body image issues or their mental illness through their art, yet discussing her hair care was not.

“I felt very angry, but I had to let it go because in the art world they're always complaining about something until it gets popular. [After this] I started to listen to myself more because what you least expect to be successful, ends up being successful sometimes.”

Coming full circle, AFH is ramping up to celebrate Jahnae Wyatt and her latest exhibit, My Reflections, at its upcoming Open Studio on June 18th. The exhibit features paintings such as “Wash-Day Eve” and “I’ll just go ahead and put a headwrap on and call it a day,” which both depict her previously controversial personal hair product collection.

Regarding Wyatt's next steps, she’ll be attending graduate school in the fall to pursue a masters in painting and has every intention of looking into a doctoral in philosophy with a concentration in art theory and visual arts. She has mentioned that she could see herself helping young artists grow through teaching art at a college level or through authoring an art textbook. As Jahnae is a “forever student” at heart, she looks forward to continuing her art research and seeing where her continued artistic and academic pursuits might lead.

“My growth has affected my work in ways that allow me to have more confidence… growth is supposed to be uncomfortable and it's supposed to make you feel like you're challenging who you are. I'm kind of curious about what's going to change. Will I change? Will I stay the same?”

As Jahnae Wyatt’s work expands and her accomplishments grow, Artists For Humanity will be there watching and cheering her on.

AFH Alumna Jahnae Wyatt self-portraitJahnae Wyatt with her self-portrait "Prolific."

If you’re interested in following her journey (Instagram: @jahnaes.artistry) or seeing her paintings in person, don’t miss the opportunity to meet Wyatt and enter her world during AFH’s June 18 Open Studio, from 5-7pm at the AFH EpiCenter.

Thank you to our supporters, including:

The Lynch Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Sustaining Grants - Cummings Foundation - Cummings Foundation
State Street
John Hancock - MLK Scholars
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Mass Cultural Council
The Wilson Sheehan Foundation
Wellington Management
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Ann Theodore Foundation
edvestors - Driving Change in Urban Schools