Ashley Hairston Doughty’s solo exhibition, Kept to Myself, is at the Barrick Museum at UNLV through Oct. 9. The exhibition highlights race and gender-based issues through various media, including pillows screenprinted with unsolicited comments the artist received on the streets while living in Chicago. Hairston Doughty moved to Las Vegas in June 2017 to teach art at UNLV.
These art pieces handle being a black woman in America and also handle the question of: to be a parent or not to be. Did you run into any obstacles, displaying such personal and vulnerable topics? Did you have any fear there or any worries?
So, one thing that I had intended to include, and I actually decided not to … was the cootie catcher piece that particularly tells fortunes of what might happen if I decide to have a child or not. I initially was going to have photocopies of those so people could take a copy and assemble it themselves and have the piece for themselves. But … I decided not to include copies of it, mostly because it is so personal. … I didn’t feel comfortable with other people playing with my potential life choices.
Has handling and displaying the pillows with the comments been healing for you? Has it changed your perspective on those comments?
Really, the farther removed in time I am from when those statements were initially said, the more appreciative I am of them, because if it weren’t for people saying those things to me at that specific moment in time, being in Chicago, getting to date my now-husband, and in graduate school producing the work that I was at the time, I wouldn’t have ended up making those pillows in the first place, and I wouldn’t have been writing about the experiences. And really, because of that project, I started writing more about past experiences.
Between 2012, when these projects started, and now, has your experience as a woman in America changed? And would you say your work would be different if you had started The Space Between today?
Yeah. Really, that project, I feel like could not be done outside of Chicago because those experiences were so unique to that location. My husband and I have lived in Nashville, Tennessee and Houston, Texas since then, you know, progressively getting further South. And I thought for sure that we would encounter more statements, perhaps even worse than what I encountered in Chicago, but it wasn’t the case at all. Nobody said anything to us. It’s just something about Chicago, and the way I guess people’s mindsets are in such a large city that I haven’t really encountered anywhere else.
Are there any specific topics that you have gravitated towards since you’ve moved here?
Well, I guess the big topic is specifically being a Black woman at this moment in time. I am in my mid-30s, and my husband and I have talked about having children, especially because both of our fathers have passed away within the past five years. And, there’s a legacy aspect that goes along with that. So, there have been a lot of reports and studies about how Black women are treated in the medical field. As patients, they don’t necessarily receive adequate care because of unintended racial bias being used. There’s also a predisposed condition. More or less, Black women are more likely to have complications or even die in childbirth. Then, on top of that, there’s all these environmental concerns. … Do we really need to have more humans on this Earth? Or could having a child mean showing them, “Hey, look at how we screwed up. You can be the ones to make the future better.” That’s really what I’ve been exploring more, on top of the racial inequities that have come to the forefront this year. It’s never been an easy time to be a Black woman, but this is an uneasy time, because of so many different issues colliding at one moment, and not really knowing which direction to go in.
Has art changed since Trump was elected? And with all the Black Lives Matter protests going on, has there been any impact on your art?
After Trump was elected, I went into, I guess, an artist block. I had a really difficult time making any art from 2016 up until middle of last year. I felt like anything I came up with just wasn’t impactful and also wasn’t helping anybody or moving anybody forward. When George Floyd’s murder was publicized and Black Lives Matter became a lot more prominent, I did write a piece called “I Am, I Am Not,” and that was … my response to what has been happening. I feel like, as a Black woman, I have experiences that a lot of other Black women and Black Americans have experienced, but at the same time, I can’t speak for everybody. So, with that piece I was trying to help non-Black Americans understand what a majority of us feel like, just based on the fact that we look the way we do.
Would you say there’s a sort of sense of urgency in 2020 for art by women, about women? And specifically art by Black women for Black women?
I think this is an opportunity for our voices to be heard. And I’m thankful that people now are paying more attention to the messages that we’ve been trying to say for years. My main hope though, is that something actually becomes of it. … I think, really—in terms of the unseen pyramid of privilege—Black women are pretty far down the bottom. … For centuries, we’ve been treated so poorly. I’m glad people are listening and paying attention, but some action needs being taken. It’s one thing to recognize. It’s another thing to actually do something about it.
Ashley Hairston Doughty’s solo exhibition, Kept to Myself, is at the Barrick Museum at UNLV through Oct. 9. More on the artist’s website.