Elise's Black Folk
Elise R. Peterson is a multimedia storyteller with a focus in visual arts and writing currently based in Los Angeles. Her multidisciplinary visual work is informed by the past, reimagined in the framework of the evolving notions of technology, intimacy and cross-generational narratives. Elise uses art as a platform for social justice while making art accessible for all through exhibitions of public work and beyond.
How did you first get into creating the Black Folk illustrations?
My Black Folk series started when I was working a job that I was really unfulfilled doing. I was a secretary at a school and it was really frustrating for me. I always end up working in education in some capacity but working in a school where I didn’t feel like I could really reach students was really frustrating for me. It was Black History Month, so I decided to challenge myself and initially just started featuring black figures that resonated with me and kind of putting them in spaces that I would rather be, aside from work.
Diana Meets Matisse by Elise Peterson
I was making a collage every single day for the month of February. Being consistent with making the work, it’s bound to evolve. I started collecting a lot of fine art images that I love, which ended up being the works of Matisse. I’ve really always admired Pam Grier. I want to be a blaxploitation superhero so I was looking for images of her to pull. It was this painting of a topless woman in red sheets and I found this picture of Pam Grier, topless in red satin sheets. I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is perfect. They fit so well together.”
Photographed by Uli Beutter Cohen (left), Save Art Space (right)
So that was the first collage that I made and I guess my concept simplified to two components: the figure that I’m featuring and the fine art work that I’m placing the figure in. From there I think my work became a lot more intentional. It opened up a dialogue and that’s really what I want to do. There are so many answers that people look for in artwork and I don’t really have the answers. There’s also the bigger conversation of placing black figures into these traditionally very exclusive environments like fine art where, initially, we could not thrive or were not welcomed just because fine art is a world of a certain socio-economic status. The work then evolved into not only placing us in these spaces but of us as black people being put into these white worlds while dominating at the forefront.
Image via www.eliserpeterson.com
Elise has illustrated two children's books: How Mamas Love Their Babies, Feminist Press & The Nightlife of Jacuzzi Gasket, Dottir Press. She has an upcoming installation in Houston with Project Row Houses.
Interview adapted from The Fader "This Artist Is Using Beautiful Collages To Challenge Whiteness In The Art World," by Lakin Starling.