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Meet Tenisha Artes Hicks, first person of color to serve as featured artist during Artwalk

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Tenisha Artes Hicks (left) and potential customer discuss her paintings at 2018 Birmingham Artwalk. (Reginald Allen Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

Tenisha Artes Hicks was the featured artist at this year’s Birmingham Artwalk, the first person of color to serve in that position in the event’s 17-year history.

“I didn’t feel like I was worthy of that title, and I’m still learning,” Hicks said. “I’m always learning stuff.”

Artwalk transforms Birmingham’s loft neighborhood into an arts

Tenisha Artes Hicks at 2018 Birmingham Artwalk on Morris Avenue. (Reginald Allen Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

district, featuring the work of more than 100 visual artists, live musicians, and street performers, as well as food and drink vendors and children’s activities. Hicks said she doesn’t mind being the festival’s first black featured artist, but she would like to see more.

“There just aren’t enough of us,” she said. “It’d be nice to see more of us here. I think Atlanta has a big black art scene, why can’t we?”

There’s room for growth in Birmingham’s black art community.

“We need to try harder, and when I say try harder, I mean we don’t need to give up after one rejection” letter when we submit our work, she said. “We are who we are, so we have to try harder anyway.”

Hicks, 30, who specializes in printmaking, a technique in which art is printed on different surfaces such as wood, said being Artwalk’s featured artist meant she got to provide art for the festival’s T-shirts, posters, and advertisements.

Part of the marketing for the event was an image of Hicks as Rosie the Riveter, the World War II era representation of women who worked in U.S. factories and shipyards to support the war effort abroad.

In Hicks’ version, she’s holding lightning bolts, has natural curly hair, blue skin, and a blue line painted in the middle of purple lips; Sloss Furnace and the Rotary Trail are in the background.

“My face is on everybody’s chest, on everybody’s T-shirt, and I’m like, ‘Do they know it’s me?’ I’m just thankful,” Hicks said.

Exposure for Emerging Artists

Hicks has been part of Artwalk since 2012, and she knows what it can do for emerging artists.

“It gets us struggling artists out there,” she said. “It gives us experience. It’s really good for networking. It brings people to the city. It’s just a fun, free event.”

Like organizers and participants, Hicks has noticed that more people are attending the event.

“People are starting to hear more about us, and they’re coming out here,” she said.

Hicks was excited to see a showcase featuring area high school students. A lot of schools don’t have strong art departments, she said, which means the festival gives students an opportunity to express themselves.

“This is a great way to … encourage them. It lets them know that they can go somewhere with their skills,” she said. “I think it’s great that [the festival is] spotlighting their artwork. That can have a big influence on [young people].”

Hicks, who attended Mortimer Jordan High School in Kimberly, Ala., said the opportunity to show off her talent was a big influence on her in high school.

“When I was in the ninth grade, my teacher entered me in [the annual Congressional Art Competition], and I won,” Hicks said. “She entered me behind my back. They made me get up in front of the class and read some excerpt, and she came in and announced that I had won.”

Hicks was told that she would receive a partial scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia, and she and her family would fly to Washington, D.C., where her art would hang in the U.S. Capitol building for a year.

“It’s My Life”

“I cried in front of class and called my mother,” Hicks said. “That was a big influence on me. If [my teacher] had not done that, I don’t know if I would still be doing art. There are times when I want to quit. I get so sick of getting all the rejection letters and gallery rejections, but I love it too much. I cannot not do art. It’s my life.”

Hicks, who majored in printmaking at the University of Montevallo, said she enjoys seeing the new artists at Artwalk and learning different styles. Her first time at the festival was her most memorable.

“I was in this small space with these big pieces, and people were coming up and looking at my stuff,” she recalled. “It was so cool, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. People are looking at my work and liking my work. I need to expand to an outside area.’ That’s what I’ve been doing for years now, and it’s actually better.

Hicks is hopeful for the future of diverse art and artists in Birmingham and beyond.

“I am a black queer female artist, and there are more of us, but not a lot of us are seen, my type of art is not seen. We need to support each other, get out there, and get our names out there.”

Click here to read more about Birmingham Artists to watch; Ahmad; Chris; Erin; Lillie.