How one collagist’s coloring book is empowering Black women
A Manchester, UK based multi-hyphenate artist with exhibits worldwide and author of a new coloring book is empowering Black women as well as children.
Born and raised on the island of Bermuda, collagist and painter Gherdai Hassell has had a more than colorful life.
She grew up exposed to the natural beauty of her home island and with encouragement from her mom, she uses those colors to express her world view.
“Growing up in such a colorful and fashionable place influenced my artwork,”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
This colorful expression for life was seen early in Hassell’s childhood. She creatively constructed figures that kept her hands busy as well as her mind.
“When I was a little girl, I created paper people. They were drawings that I’d draw, dress them up, name them, and cut them out. I’d play with them like dolls.”Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
Hassell saw her craft as an outlet to tell a narrative untold, in a light that has yet to shine.
She created her world with these cutout dolls, creating Black women in illustrious clothing. “They seemed more interesting to me than dolls because I could make them look like whatever I wanted. I had free creative reign.”
Today, Gherdai Hassell has expanded her view onto the canvas for all to see. Hassell’s art is a cubist depiction, colorful collage of opulent Black children, men, families, and particularly women, as seen on the cover of her My Alibii coloring book.
“I find them to be so interesting, and graceful, even when the world doesn’t view them as such. Black women inspire my work, my work is about them, for them, by them.”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
Fashion has helped shift narratives for her and she recognizes the power in style of dress. Embedded in Hassell’s coloring book project, confidence is conveyed through powerful postures and royal garb. Here Black women are empowered to reclaim their existence in the world.
“I love fashion because it defines eras. We can look at different images and know with certainty what period it was based on what people were wearing.”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
Hassell recognizes her influence with her art and the power fashion and style of dress have in historical imagery. “It’s such a huge part of the culture and our way of life. Just like music, and visual art, fashion is a staple of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going as people.”
Painting style into her work has become intrinsic for Hassell and her artistic expression stating, “fashion allows us to express creatively who we are, inwardly, outwardly.”
Representation is the coloring tool for the Afro-Diaspora-inspired creations Hassell has exhibited. Her Atiffacts Project exemplifies this sentiment with color-blocking and collage detailing.
Hassell spoke on the importance of empowering black women, men, and children through her coloring book and artworks, “How we are represented in [imagery] reinforces beliefs about ourselves.”
She continued, “If we see ourselves painted in a good light, it changes the narrative inwardly, and then outwardly. For so long, black people have had their stories told from other people’s perspectives or not at all…”
“It’s time to take back our stories and our own narratives about how, where, when, and why we show up the way we do in the world.”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
“It feels paradoxical to the time we are in,” Hassell makes of the pandemic. She found this time to be most nurturing for someone like herself. Taking advantage of the social distance and capitalizing on the visibility tech has provided.
“The reason I think this has happened is that when the world shut down, we turned to art, to music, to dancing. Art in all forms is so intertwined into our existence that when capitalism takes a back seat, we return to our truest nature, consuming, and producing creativity.”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
What’s important to Hassell, is the freedom of expression, the liberating feeling in telling a story through one’s eyes.
An unfamiliar pair of eyes, nonetheless, has invigorated the spirit of Black women, and Hassell’s expressive qualities are evident in the fashion of the characters she creates.
“One day I will dress every day, the way I dress the women in my collages and paintings. Until then, I’ll just keep living vicariously through them by continuing to create them.”– Gherdai Hassell, Collagist and Painter
Gherdai Hassell hasn’t started coloring outside the lines of her childhood just yet. Her adulthood has been the extension of her innocence, and her creativity has displayed her growth as a person.
“I’m still doing child-like things,” Hassell explains in adoration of her craft. “That’s what’s so fun about my practice.”