This week, the program will present Sibyls Shrine: Taking Care, a group photography exhibition opening on Tue., Feb. 9 at the Silver Eye Center for Photography. Curated by Sibyls Shrine's administrative director Jessica Gaynelle Moss, the show depicts how Black mothers find ways to care for themselves, especially in a city that cares so little for them.
“Black women are not valued in Pittsburgh,” says Moss, a Pittsburgh native.
She references a now well-known 2019 study from Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission confirming what many already knew — that Pittsburgh is “arguably the most unlivable for Black women” in the country. The data presented stood in stark contrast to the “Most Livable City” label Pittsburgh had been touting for years.
In terms of overall quality of life, the study found that Black women and girls in Pittsburgh suffer from higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and death compared to demographically similar cities, including Baltimore, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. The study found that Black mothers in Pittsburgh also face higher rates of fetal death and maternal mortality.
Moss says that while she understands that people may want to retreat from Pittsburgh based on this research, she and others choose to stay.
“I'm invested in this place,” says Moss, who attended Carnegie Mellon University. She then earned a master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before returning to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She also created and runs The Roll Up CLT, a residency and redevelopment project in Charlotte, N.C. that provides free housing, transportation, and other valuable resources to Black artists. “What can I do to make this better for me and future generations?”
One way is to elevate their voices and experiences, something Moss, Wormsley, and Sibyls Shrine community artist liaison Naomi Chambers all set out to do with the help of the city's Office of Public Art, which provides additional support as the collaborating organization for the program.
Moss believes Sibyls Shrine — named for Mami Wata, the priestesses of Black African deity — had been brewing in Wormsley's mind for years “because of her experiences that she’s had as a mom and being turned away from residency programs.”
Coincidentally, Moss says she was pregnant during the program's early development.
“I was really excited for [Moss] to put the show together,” says Wormsley, who also serves as creative director for Sibyls Shrine. “Lifting the work of Black mothers who are artists with an organization that I love.”
Taking Care features work from several local mothers, including Wormsley, Kahmeela Adams, Nakeya Brown, Tara Fay, Tsedaye Makonnen, and sarah huny young.
“I tried to pull in as many moms who have a photographic practice and whose work could really speak to the concept of care, for yourself and your community,” says Moss.
The Silver Eye website says Taking Care “presents a diverse collection of Black women demonstrating care for themselves in a multitude of ways — in their own personal spaces, their homes, beauty salons, nail salons, and even at the laundromat.” The show presents different ideas of self-care, from getting a mani-pedi to doing yoga.
“It's a weird time to be exhibiting visual art in spaces that are closed to the public,” says Moss. “This is a space that is addressing that in a way that makes the work still accessible. ... I really hope that people see this work and see these artists and continue to engage with them.”
The show is just one part of Sibyls Shrine’s goal of helping Black mothers “further develop their craft and create a sustainable arts practice.” Moss says they also organize a Home Residency, which provides stipends and childcare to chosen artists so they can work from home. In December 2020, Sibyls Shrine announced that Jamaican-American photographer and mixed-media artist Renee Cox would become their first Visiting Artist-In-Residence.
Moss says they also wanted Sibyls Shrine to have a more vast definition of what it means to be “creative.”
“It encompasses many things,” says Moss, pointing out that Taking Care includes women who, in addition to being photographers, are painters, podcast producers, musicians, DJs, and more. “So often we don't realize that we have creativity, or that we have a practice, or that we are makers … I think one of the brilliant things that Alisha has made an effort to do and really focus on with this residency is broadening our own definitions of who is an artist.”
She adds that Sibyls Shrine has another exhibition planned for this year and has been trying to support other women behind the scenes.
Moss says she wants Sibyls Shrine to continue expanding its network and create an ecosystem of creative Black mothers in Pittsburgh.
“I really value the community we've made over the past year,” says Moss. “These are women who, I not only look up to their mothering, but I also look up to their artistry."
Sibyls Shrine: Taking Care. On view Tue., Feb. 9-Sat., April 24. Silver Eye Center for Photography. 4808 Penn Ave. Bloomfield. silvereye.org