• Virtual Opening: Monday, March 8, 2021
    6 to 7:30 pm
  • Panel Discussion: Friday, April 9, 2021
    6 to 7 pm
  • Free on our website, Facebook and YouTube!
  • Runs through April 9th

“Watering the Seeds: Organizing and Creating Paths for Young Women to Lead”

Join us on Friday, April 9th for a Q & A and panel discussion. Live on our Facebook and Youtube.

Curatorial Statement

The portraits in this exhibition were created at four I Am Why art and writing workshops in 2018-2019 in Boston, Chicago, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. Each participant expressed themselves by altering their printed photographic portraits and writing “I am why” statements.

I Am Why is an organization led by young women and gender expansive activists. Our art and social justice book titled I Am Why Reclaiming the Lens launched in November 2020. Reclaiming the Lens invites the viewer to experience the brush strokes and the stories of system impacted young women and gender expansive folks. The lens through which these artists created their pieces reveals a pathway to community liberation.

Through this interactive exhibit of collaged photographic portraits, we highlight scars that have been beautified, and inspire a vision for transforming our broken society. Through our perspective and example, we also create a legacy for our children and the generations to inherit.

We invite you to join this movement to uplift and amplify historically ignored voices. This exhibition was curated to capture our collective struggles while recognizing our shared hope.

I Am Why: Reclaiming The Lens (Book Cover)

In Reclaiming the Lens, each of the seven chapters contained about five art pieces. For this exhibition we chose three pieces from each chapter, prioritizing women and gender expansive folks in the Bay Area doing work locally with systematically oppressed women. We also included pieces focusing on the resilience we carry as survivors of the Amerikkkan system.

When Black and Indigenous voices are amplified, all voices are uplifted. When women, especially young women like us, control the lens…we give life, we show love, we care, we work hard, we have purpose, we are not just oppressed peoples.

Covid-19 has paused so much of normal society, but I Am Why’s activists continue their fight to change policy and demand reforms to end mass incarceration and state violence. The young women and gender expansive activists of I Am Why are part of a new generation of women, of people of color who are leading movements for social justice globally and nationally.

This is an important moment for us. As formerly incarcerated young women and first time curators, we have the honor to uplift and thank all the partners who made the I Am Why Reclaiming the Lens exhibit possible.

“I am why our stories will be heard, understood, and explained from our mouths and not our oppressors,” says our sister Keila from Chicago. Through these diverse pieces of art, the artists are sharing their trauma and their healing. The viewer is entrusted to hold these perspectives sacred. These pieces are dedicated to all the folks who struggle so all of our children can have a better future. From our siblings Ebony Walcott from Brooklyn and Kazani Finao from San Francisco: “Our stories embody perseverance and overcoming. We are not crying for help—we are roaring for our liberation.”

In Solidarity,
Alondra Aragon, Curator
Xochtil Larios, Curator

To learn more about I Am Why:

Virtual Exhibition

Recognition

Our stories embody perseverance and overcoming
Recognition to the art of making a way
Recognition in the art of telling our stories
Recognition that our stories are the true art and the artist
— Ebony Walcott

Ebony Walcott speaking about theme of Recognition.

“I’m just thinking about the whole process of when we were first creating the curriculum and we didn’t even know what we wanted to produce and then, like, what has been produced from the work that we’ve done because it didn’t even go the way that we originally planned it. It formed something on it’s own. So just like… Recognition to the things that the participants have gone through that helped them shape who they are, which helped bring I Am Why into fruition and helped it come as far as it has come. Because if this was another set of people they probably would have just followed our rules like the way we wrote them and it wouldn’t have been this organic thing that it has become.”

Xochtil Moussier Larios

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice

Xochtil Larios reading her I Am Why statement & Mel Harris speaking about Xochtil’s artwork.

“I am book and street smart.
They system are sure experts at separating.
I am sure an expert at innovating.
I am why our people never have to worry about telling their story.”

“With each sentence she shows, like, the correlation between her and the system. So when she says “I’m book and street smart” it’s to let you know ‘my mans I got the best of both worlds. It don’t get no better than that’. And then, ya know, she says, “The systems are sure experts at separating. I am sure an expert at innovating.” Like, if you do one thing, I’m gonna learn how to use that and make it work in my favor. Like, because at the end of the day I gotta survive this, ya’all are trying to stop me, but this is where I’m at. So when she says ya know, “I am why our people never have to worry about telling their story.” Because everybody has a story, and most people, no matter what the story is, and how good it may have made their life in the end, or even if they grew from it, or whatever, a lot of people are afraid to share with the world what happened and how it happened, ya know. So, us speaking up is what’s giving the whole movement a voice it’s allowing for the younger generation to be able to step up and speak up on what they need and what they want also – because the reality is even if we was eligible or did attempt to speak up in our time, nobody was listening. We are getting the opportunity now, but the whole goal is to get them to be able to not even have to speak up, but even if they do be able to do so with such a strong voice that they know like, listen, no this is not right, this is not what you keep doing, you’re not going to categorize me, you’re not going to put me in the umm… box, none of that. Like, yes I can be on the streets, I survived that, but I did pay attention in school, I have the best of both worlds and you’re going to respect my voice for what it is because it comes from both sides of the spectrum. While you’re able to just look down on me and look down from where you sit at, you do not understand but let me give you a piece of knowledge, let me give you a piece of this pie real quick, you gotta hold that, you gotta taste that.”

Xochtil, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print

Xochimilco, 2018

Mixed media collage on pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice

Sivale “Vale” Segi

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice

Keila Pope

I Am Why, 2019
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Communities United For Restorative Youth

Origins

Origins give birth to sagacity and ancestry
Ancestry is not a hollow thing of the past but a living journey
— Aaliyah Young

Alexis “Lexiy” Wilson

I Am Why, 2019
Pigment print
Boston, MA
In partnership with GIFT

Alondra Aragon

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Alondra, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print

Alondra Aragon

Xochitls break through the concrete, 2018
Acrylic paint and mixed media collage on pigment print

Jazmine Banks

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Xochtil Larions reading Jazmine’s I Am Why statement and Navia Samione Alston-Truell speaking about Jazmine’s artwork.

“I am why my aborigines ancestor fighting for my next generation to be free with my loud mouth, chocolate skin, and the power of struggle in my tone and mommy in my background so strong and rude. I am why we will no longer be invisible.”

“I remember I liked Jazmines, ’cause like, her daughter to her was kind of like metamorphosis like phasing the way she had the picture. Her message is like, everything she went through she wanted to change that for the future of her daughter. And the way her poster is, is like, she has her daughters picture going down into a phase of her. Her daughter is her and she is her daughter so it’s like, she’s changing the world for her daughter and that’s who her daughter is going to be in the future, just a better version.”

Reclaim

Reclaim the lens which we are seen through
We are not crying for help we are roaring for our liberation.
— Ebony and Kazani

Jocelyn Mati

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment Print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Samione Navia Alston-Truell, Mel Harris and Francine Sherman speaking about Jocelyn’s artwork.

“I am resilient 10 years old waking up to a (bang, bang, bang)
No not gunshots
A Black property manager with a White man in tow here to reclaim this frame.
I am why kids and families won’t ever lose hope.” – Xochtil Larios reading Jocelyn Mati’s I Am Why statement

Navia Samione Alston-Truell: “That 10 years old, it already tells you which view you’re speaking from. You’re looking at this statement from a 10 year olds eyes is basically how I see it. And it’s like the 10 year old her is telling you her story.”

Mel Harris: “I like the way she says that “waking up to a bang bang, no not gunshots” because, of course initially the first thing, especially in our community, you would assume is ya know gunshots or gang violence. Of course because this is what we are brought up amongst, and then to change the complete story to being eviction, it’s just touching on one of the many things that they don’t understand that we go through because that eviction eventually leads to other things too. Especially if the parents do not get back on their feet or we do get put in the system due to the parents not being able to take care of us and stuff like that it leads to other things. Once you start realizing that your home is being snatched away from you and that safety net that you just was accustomed to. This is another crisis that we are facing in our communities. And things like that you have to touch on because it’s just one of the many crisis that lead to other situations. As far as the women ya know having trouble in school because now your clothes, is very real, like all those things lead up to things we are facing in our um reality is that lead us into the troubled situations that we’ve gone through.”

Navia Samione Alston-Truell: “Her background is a construction site. Then she has the yellow line which like I said in the beginning, it’s like her energy. And yellow is a happy color, yellow is a color of like celebration of life, good energy and she has it like all around her. And then it’s like with her writing being about like, losing your home, or like losing faith because you lost your home. For her to take her picture next to a construction site is, like, kind of makes sense because you’re building your future now so you don’t have to lose hope, so like it goes together.”.

Mel Harris: “You see how she’s got the people blurred out in the back like they’re there, you can see people there but they’re so far away from her it’s just her.”

Francine Sherman: “But also it’s interesting ’cause the story this ten year old is experiencing is a really scary, bad one. But she’s putting this happy energy around herself. The music is light in the top so it feels like, I don’t know, it feels like hopeful, and there she goes, they’ll never lose hope is the end.”

Navia Samione Alston-Truell: “And she’s still smiling, like her statement is sad but she’s still smiling from ear to ear”

Jocelyn Mati

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment Print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Tamara Cherduville

Untitled, 2019
Acrylic paint, glitter and mixed media collage on pigment print
Boston, MA
In partnership with Massachusetts JDAI

Mel Harris reading Tamara Cherduville’s I Am Why statement, and Ebony Walcott speaking about Tamara’s artwork.

“I Am free
Why marginalized not motivated???
Clocked.
Punished instead of praised…
I Am Why we will fly.”

“I like her statement because it’s super, super hella poetic. This is an I Am Why poster that I can see in DYS, like I can see in a courthouse. I can see this one in a school. Like, it’s so versatile it’s not just speaking to one system, it’s speaking to all of the systems. Because why not, why are the kids not motivated? Like, for DYS, why aren’t they put in programs to help them find themselves. In the court system why are they just sent to jail without being put in programs? In school it’s like a line is drawn and there will be no motivation just lines being drawn. This is the final chance. This is the final chance. Like, everything is always the final chance for them, and it’s not like oh you made a mistake, you can do better.”

Tamara Cherduville

Untitled, 2019
Acrylic paint, glitter and mixed media collage on pigment print
Boston, MA
In partnership with Massachusetts JDAI

Tamara, 2019

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print

Alisa Hill

I Am Why, 2019
Pigment print
Chicago, IL
In partnership with A Long Walk Home

Michelle A. Diaz

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Harlem, NY
In partnership with Artistic Noise

Compassion

The artists of I Am Why may have suffered alone but now we stand together. Compassion is our strength.
— Mel and Samoine

Danielle Nolen

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Chicago, IL
In partnership with A Long Walk Home

Michelle Diaz reading Danielle Nolen’s I Am Why statement and Ebony Walcott speaking about Danielle’s artwork.

“I am empathetic.
Sometimes compassion feels like a weakness and the fight feels impossible.
I am why the oppressed will always feel heard.”

“I feel like to be empathetic as adults it’s not like second nature. So I feel like that is a super power because it’s not easy to look at something that someone is going through and to be like I feel for you but not in a like a condescending, pitying them. She’s not feeling pity for the people that she wants to be heard. She’s feeling like I’m going to be your strength. Like, I know that this is hard for you to be your own strength to stand in the gap for yourself right now. So I’m going to be that for you without pitying you or making you feel less than, because you don’t have the strength right now.”

Tiauana Harris

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice

Mel “S’mores” Harris

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Harlem, NY
In partnership with Artistic Noise

Mel Harris speaking about her artwork.

“Hello my name is Mel Harris known as Melly S’mores.
I Am Self-Aware
In a system where they’re trying to make one medication fit all, it’s hard to remain aware of oneself.
I am why girl’s will own their individuality.

I chose this statement because the system is bent on having one solution to fit all scenarios. When the first thing about anyone in any system whether it’s the foster care, justice system, mental health system is that they are diverse. Everything about them, their sexuality, their race, their upbringing, their trauma, their scenarios. And you cannot assume that one way works for everyone. So I strongly believe in everyone having their own voice and needing their own level of help.”

Mel, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print
Harlem, NY
In partnership with Artistic Noise

Mel “S’mores” Harris

Don’t Conform, 2018
Acrylic paint and mixed media collage on pigment print

Legacy

I remind myself we have a duty to the next generation to fight systems of oppression and find new ways to co-write our collective and individual legacy.
— Legacy

Alondra Aragon and Xochtil Larios speaking about theme of Legacy.

“As a young adult I remind myself of the next generation, it’s a duty, like almost a demand for myself, like a commitment for my fellow others which can be anybody to fight systems of oppression. Which can be anything that you define as oppression and manifests in ways to kind of say growing in your own way but then also pouring your energy and your growth into other things.

Yeah just looking at all these pieces, I feel like they all show an example of a legacy. I think you know, the pieces are so powerful that they like hold a legacy themselves individually. Just reading them, like ‘I Am why stars are being created’ you know for her to say if you do become a parent or you’re an auntie one day and your niece or nephew reads that, they” be like wow you know I can create stars too’. So I think it’s really shifting the way we think of ourselves, how we hold space for ourselves, how we hold space for our children. And I think it’s You know I would love to like kind of word that and bring all these pieces together in that way.

You know legacy and inheritance también can also be sort of bad.”

Navia Samione Alston-Truell

I Am Why, 2019
Pigment print
Boston, MA
In partnership with GIFT

Ebony Walcott, Navia Samione Alston-Truell and Francine Sherman speaking about Samione’s artwork.

“I am mother. I am the unheard, broken girl in a system made against my kind. I am why our daughters will have their voice and their power.”

Navia Samione Alston-Truell: “My statement is based on me and my daughters and all the other sisters and women out there who have been involved in the system and felt like just everything is coming crashing down on them and all they needed was someone to look out for them and just be their voice and have a stronger voice than what I’ve had when I was younger. And I want my daughters to just be able to express themselves and always speak their mind.”

Ebony Walcott: “The usage of ‘our’ instead of ‘my’ makes it seem like this is gonna be a continual fight because even when my daughters have everything that they need, like I’m still gonna be sticking up for other people’s daughters. It reminds me of an essay I’m just writing. And the quote was something about like, ‘your voice is your power.’ And I was writing about like how a lot of people have problems but they won’t speak out about it so somebody has to come in and be that voice of power. She’s like, I know that I have these problems so other people are most likely having them, I can’t be the only person in the world having them, so I’m gonna speak up for us as women who are having this problem, you don’t have to worry.”

Francine: “It feels very joyful to me. And the photograph, which you can’t see the background, but it was a snowy day. And Samione your little girl wanted to go out and play in the snow, and make, and it was like, a new snow—”

Samione: “Had to take so many pictures!”

Francine: “So many pictures it was tons of them and she just really was excited to get on her clothes and go play in the snow. It really feels like a really joyfull—”

Child’s voice: “Hi!”

Everyone: “Hi!”

Child: “How are you doing guys?”

Francine: “You see a picture of yourself?”

Child: “Yeah!”

Asia Willis

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Chicago, IL
In partnership with A Long Walk Home

Terryon “TK” Cross

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

TK, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print

Terryon “TK” Cross

Second Chance, 2018
Acrylic paint and mixed media collage on pigment print

Action

We’re going to help all the girls around us, before us, and after us.
— Stevona

Shai Aikens

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Ebony Walcott

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Harlem, NY
In partnership with Artistic Noise

Alizea Yelvington, Michelle Diaz, Mel Harris, Francine Sherman and Ebony Walcott speaking about Ebony’s artwork.

Lucero Herrera

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Lucero, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Lucero Herrera

I Am Beautiful Struggle, 2018
Acrylic paint and marker on pigment print

Pride

We all have once felt completely alone and unable to connect, but through a renewed, satisfying self-respect we have manifested a not-so-secret railroad of witnesses who testify about the reclamation of their origin, culture, legacy, compassion, pride, and taking action. As the journey took us from East to West restoratively, I AM made whole.
— Ebony and Apriel

Innazia Moore

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
Boston, MA
In partnership with GIFT

Charice Bowser

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Navia Samione Alston-Truell and Michelle Diaz speaking about Charice’s artwork.

Kazani Lole Kalani Finao

I Am Why, 2018
Pigment print
San Francisco, CA
In partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center

Kazani, 2018

Photograph by Francine Sherman
Pigment print