The Black Woman’s Affinity Group at Madison College will present the second annual art exhibit in honor of the late Dzigbodi Akyea, a long-time Madison College academic advisor, titled “Protecting The Black Woman” for the entire month of February. The grand opening takes place tonight at 6 p.m. at the Madison College-Truax Gallery.
The exhibit, which includes work from multiple artists who highlight the experience of Black women in multiple mediums and through multiple lenses, started last year in February of 2022 in memory of Akyea. As a part of the Black Women’s Affinity Group (BWAG) itself, Akyea’s personal values and the energy she spread to others permeate both the gallery and the continued efforts of the group. With this year’s theme being “Protecting The Black Woman,” it is fitting that the exhibit is dedicated to the memory of a woman who worked to do exactly that.
The current president of BWAG, Chevon Bowen, has been at Madison College since the beginning of 2020. While the group was created in 2019 by fellow Madison College employee Jodie Pope, the first art exhibit would not be held until after the passing of the much-loved and cherished Akyea in 2021. The sudden loss prompted BWAG to dedicate the time and work in putting together the exhibit last year, and although Bowen was not able to get more involved until after the 2022 gallery, her role as a storyteller for the short but impactful history of the event and group is fitting for the legacy of remembrance Akyea has left.
“This group gave us a space to be able to come together and kind of share in that community and share in our experiences,” recalls Bowen, the current president of the Black Women’s Affinity Group. “Dzigbodi (Akyea) was one of the members, and she passed away in September of 2021. Before she had passed away, a vision that she was always sharing with the group was this idea that we need to put together something that celebrates us as Black women and showcases our culture and our community. She very much wanted that to be in the form of an art gallery. She had this whole idea that it can be about empowering the Black woman, and that was her vision. She passed away, and as the group was mourning and thinking of how can we honor her, they thought about this gallery and said, ‘This is something we just need to make happen.'”
Bowen spoke to the toll that the organization and execution of the first gallery had on the women in BWAG. Higher academics as an environment can often be isolating and difficult for people of color in spaces that often do not reflect diversity and provide little opportunity to connect with others around experiences. This is true for Madison’s multiple spaces of higher education, especially around experiences of Black faculty, staff, or students who often resolve to leave their position and even the city after having those adverse experiences. However, these experiences and raising awareness that there are others going through the same thing provided the inspiration to take on the task of the gallery again.
“We just kept thinking of Dzigbodi (Akyea), and she would be like, ‘You’re doing this gallery. Why are you going to act like this is the worst thing that you could go through? You can do this, and you can make sure that our representation continues to be out there for everyone to experience,’” Bowen said. “And so we said, ‘Okay, we’re gonna do the art gallery.’ That’s how it happened. What I want to share is, you see this theme, “Protecting the Black Woman.” It’s not just related to the exhibit. This is our theme that’s been guiding the different activities and social events and the way that we’ve been running our affinity group.”
Bowen’s reflections on the importance of the group could not be understated, as the support such groups provide can be a crucial piece of retaining people as employees and associates. The systemic inequities that affect experiences in higher education, along with making them spaces where many interactions can feel like performances, can be exhausting and call for these kinds of opportunities where connectivity and relationship can be built. With the theme of protecting Black women, BWAG is looking to make a statement on acknowledging experience while also extending a hand out to those Black women throughout Madison College who may be looking for a space of restoration inside of the group.
“Just having people in this group that understand, I can’t even put words to how much it’s meant to me,” said Bowen. “That’s just my experience, so I think that if you talk to other members, you would get some type of a similar story. I think that this affinity group has helped to make us stronger, and we get to lean on each other. If anything is going wrong, we get to lean on each other and lean on each other’s knowledge. I’m thankful that we are spread all across the college because we all have different areas of discipline, and we can feed off of each other and learn more. I think for at least a good chunk of members and definitely, for me, that’s really what the affinity group is all about.”
The memory of Dzigbodi Akyea certainly lives on through the gallery, but most importantly, it lives on through the work and values of the Black Women’s Affinity Group. To check out more information on the event, visit the Madison College website page here.
The opening ceremony for “Protecting The Black Woman” will be held at the Gallery at Truax located at 1701 Wright St. The ceremony will start at 6 p.m. and run until 8 p.m. The exhibit runs throughout the month of February.