If Sasha-Loriene could go back in time, she would give her 7-year-old self what she needed to become an artist.
As a first-generation American with Liberian parents, Sasha-Loriene was dissuaded from pursuing art professionally because her parents wanted job sustainability for their daughter. “They had jobs, they had education, they were working for the government in Liberia, and the civil war destabilized the country. They had to pretty much start over in the States,” she says. Still, during her junior year at the University of Maryland, College Park, Sasha-Loriene declared a studio art major for approximately 32 hours. When her father found out about her choice, he told her to major in business, science, or law, or she would have to go to community college. She decided to study economics and went on to get a master’s degree in public administration from American University.
But she was unhappy, and learned through the 2017 change in government administration that her role doing management analysis in the Department of Education, which she thought provided job security, was not so secure. Her department was told to prepare their resumes because they might be laid off. Although things worked out—she kept the job she hated—she started thinking differently about work. “I realized just how fickle things really are and how things can change, so why not take a leap or a risk on yourself,” she says.
Growing up in Prince George’s County, Sasha-Loriene saw many examples of Black women doctors, scientists, business owners, and chefs, but she didn’t see any Black women artists who she could model herself after. Sasha-Loriene created Black Girls Who Paint around the story of her inner child. “I think it really starts from hearing our stories, sharing our stories, so the next young girl can see herself in it,” she says.
Today, Black Girls Who Paint is a DMV-based organization made up of multiple generations of Black women artists. Membership comes with opportunities for exposure and education. The organization has grown national, and the wide base affords women from around the country with a sense of community.
In July 2020, a partnership with Royal Talens, an art materials company and foundation that connects with artists in colleges, universities, and art retailers to embrace creativity, allowed for a mentorship program with some of the Black Girls Who Paint artists.
Through the program, Sabiyha Prince, a 62-year-old abstract artist and member of Black Girls Who Paint, met twice a month with figurative artist Terry Strickland, who helped her improve her figure painting. “I’ve taken classes. I’ve read up on it,” Prince says, “As an abstract artist, I don’t have to do that, but I wanted to have that option.” Black Girls Who Paint allowed Prince to forge a friendship with an artist who could advance her technical skills, but what she appreciates specifically about the organization is its multigenerational appeal: It’s invested in the community of Black women painters at large. In addition to being inclusive of older Black women artists like Prince, Black Girls Who Paint encourages young Black women in their artistic practices.
One of the ways it does that is through two monetary awards for young painters, the Girls Award and the Student Award. The Girls Award gives two girls ages 6 to 18 each month a $100 gift cards to an art supply store, and the Student Award gives $1000 each spring and fall to one student ages 17 to 21 who are enrolled in school at least part-time in a visual arts program.
To sustain the Girls Awards and Student Award, Sasha-Loriene applies a portion of membership fees towards the awards. “Each member is actually helping the next generation with material support and academic scholarships,” she says. In the last year, Black Girls Who Paint has increased the number of monthly Girls Awards from one $50 gift card to an art supply store to two $100 gift cards.
Though the goal for the organization prior to COVID was to “log off of social media and log into your community,” Sasha-Loriene says, their active presence on Instagram has garnered the organization 105,000 followers. Bria Edwards, a self-proclaimed “Jackie-of-all-trades,” found the organization by searching different hashtags. In her attempt to be a more public-facing artist, Edwards found opportunities to showcase her work with Black Girls Who Paint on several occasions, including their recent virtual exhibition Femininity Defined, hosted on its website. Jess Owen-Young, an artist who was also in the exhibition, says, “It’s been really neat to be a part of this different way of getting my work and everyone else who’s part of the exhibition, their work out to a really broad audience.” Prince, who had three pieces in the exhibit, says, “I think what she is doing is really getting more visibility for African American artists to put more money in our pockets and that’s what most artists want.”
The Black Girls Who Paint website alone is home to a wealth of resources, but members get even more perks: They are provided artist development workshops from curators and gallery owners. The website hosts a comprehensive list of national and international Black-owned galleries, and Sasha-Loriene has connections to some of them. Through its virtual open houses, where Schillic Howard and Dominique Gallery answer questions about curating exhibitions, marketing events and other administrative topics, the organization has given artists Iike Owen-Young a sense of community. “Being a part of Black Girls Who Paint has given me opportunities to expand my own thinking about what I want my art to be and how I want people to be able to collect it,” she says.
Edwards is particularly appreciative of Sasha-Loriene’s responsiveness on social media. “The personal engagement that really comes from Sasha-Loriene’s heart as I see on Instagram and throughout the other ways that she reaches out to people is very important,” Owen-Young says. “The sky is the limit for what she Sasha-Loriene can do. She’s young and energetic,” Prince says.
Starting Black Girls Who Paint has been a liberating move for Sasha-Loriene. “I’m happier, I’m more fulfilled, and I created something that is bigger than myself. And it really helps a lot of women and men out there to have these kinds of passion projects and passion businesses to see what you can really create when you put your mind and energy in focus to do things,” Sasha-Loriene says. Next on the docket is The Black Girls Who Paint fundraising campaign, which will launch during its four year anniversary in September and come with major announcements, plus the opportunity to donate to the awards fund for the future generation of Black girls who paint.