According to a 2017 study conducted by The City University of New York Guttman College, a place known for its cultural abundance, women of color make up fewer than six percent of artists represented by top galleries in New York City.
Pittsburgh artist Lauren Valley doesn’t need a report or statistics to tell her women of color are largely underrepresented in the art community. As a minority she’s experienced it first-hand.
Valley’s new project, Electric Women, highlights the work of women of color in the digital arts space through a collection of profiles. An online digital art gallery will feature work from artists working in the realm of art, science, technology and social practice. Think of it as a social-media site for female artists of color.
“A lot of my work deals with social media and online personas,” says Valley. “I began to wonder what other women of color, who are also doing technology and social-media-based work, were doing. I was looking for a community that didn’t quite exist. I began to talk to other women like me and they noted the lack of a common online space. This project began out of a want for this online resource that I definitely needed.”
Valley is a Fifth Year Scholar, spending an extra year of study at Carnegie Mellon University. She completed a residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in 2016, and at ACRE, July 2017.
As a student at CMU, Valley began incorporating technology into her art during her sophomore year and now considers herself a new media artist. For example, in her video pieces, she incorporates mechanical robotic parts. Her YouTube channel, where she goes by the name Junie Genius, includes a series called Mad Science Wednesdays where she features different robotic pieces she has made.
“I have been doing art my entire life. Using technology has been a relatively recent development in my artistic practice,” Valley says. “As I began to dive deeper into the online new media world and started seeing how other women of color use technology, I began to realize there wasn’t much of an online community for women of color working across art and technology.”
Valley says she wishes there was a space like this when she was in middle school and high school and looking for artists like her. And from talks with other artists she asked to participate in the Electric Women project, she realized that her frustration in the art world shared by many women of color.
“Each of the artists I’ve contacted has said having this common resource and being able to find other women like them is something that has been extremely helpful,” Valley says. “Overall, the reaction has been very positive.”
Valley grew up in Fox Chapel, a Pittsburgh suburb lacking in diversity. She says attending CMU has exposed her to a variety of cultures that have helped shape her art and influenced her work on Electric Women.
“It really encouraged me to explore myself as a person of color and to connect with more people that look like me,” Valley says. “Having the diverse community on campus encouraged me to carve out this online space for other people. If I hadn’t come to as diverse a place as Carnegie Mellon I might not have pursued this project.”
Among artists involved in the project is Alisha B. Wormsley, whose project "There Are Black People In The Future," made headlines when those words were posted on a billboard in East Liberty. The words were taken down after alleged complaints from members of the community, but the action drew backlash.
Other artists involved in the project include Allison Maria Rodriguez, Anna Luisa Petrisko, Bonnie Jones, Emilia Yang, Gaby Cepeda, Hackers of Resistance, Hiba Ali, Hyphen-Labs, Ingrid Zhuang, Jennifer Chan, Joanna Cheung, Joy Poulard Cruz, Julieta Gil, Laleh Mehran, Lauren McCarthy, Legacy Russell, Lisa Park, Mary Maggic, Morehshin Allahyari, Nicole Maloof, Peiqi Su, Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo, Sixing Xu, Tale of Tales, Tamiko Thiel, Tonia Beglari, Wednesday Kim, Yo-Yo Lin and Yuehao Jiang.
“The first iteration includes 30 people but it’s going to be a growing online resource,” Valley says.
She also plans to create a physical book version of Electric Women. Disciplines represented through the project include 3D printing, virtual reality, robotic installation and bio-hacking. Artists interested in being highlighted can submit their work through the Electric Women website.