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Bruin creates space for herself, Black women through fine art

Third-year studio art student Ebony Morris primarily paints portraits, specifically of women of color, to express herself and connect with those around her. (Courtesy of Ebony Morris)

By Ashvika Sharma

Nov. 8, 2021 5:35 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 10 at 9:33 p.m.

Ebony Morris paints a picture of her life through the eyes of a Black woman.

The third-year studio art student said her background and culture inspire her to create vibrant portraits depicting women of color. Morris said she takes commissions on her Instagram page and is working on creating an official website for her work. Painting through the lens of a Black woman, Morris said she hopes people of color can relate to her art.

“(My art is) something people can relate to, … something people can see themselves in,” Morris said. “I started creating work because I couldn’t see myself in certain spaces.”

As a child, Morris said her mother inspired her to start painting and sketching. Creativity was always a part of her life because her mother always had a bucket of art supplies that she could use whenever she wanted, Morris said. Along with her mother, Morris said her hometown of Oakland, California, encouraged her to study fine art, since Oakland was filled with people creating murals, paintings and abstract pieces.

[Related: UCLA alumnus expands art business to marketplaces, finds new inspiration]

Throughout high school, Morris said she had an interest in art history, but she did not fully practice fine art until she was accepted to UCLA. Morris considered switching out of the art department, but she said finally accepting her calling and realizing a potential career in the field of fine art was one of the defining moments in her creative journey.

The intersections between art and social justice also influenced Morris’ artistic evolution, she said. Morris said she works with nonprofit organizations that provide resources and funding to marginalized communities and Black women as well as support their higher education pursuits. Morris worked with the National Crittenton Foundation, based in Portland, Oregon, where she said she put together a graphic novel and the logo for the nonprofit, in addition to vignettes for the National Black Women’s Justice Institute.

In addition to her portraits, Morris said she also created pieces like graphic novels, logos and vignettes for nonprofits including the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. (Courtesy of Ebony Morris)

In congruence with activism, Morris said she wants to create art that is relatable to people of color. When studying Western art in high school, she said she wasn’t able to see herself in portraiture. Morris said she wants to create art in which she can see herself and her Black culture represented by using herself and her influences, such as family and friends, as muses for her portraits.

“Growing up looking at portraiture, they (were) masterpieces,” Morris said. “But what does it mean if nobody that looks like me is represented, or I can’t identify with any of the cultures that are represented?”

When creating pieces, Morris said she likes to implement vibrant colors and add elements of nature such as orange peels and flowers. Along with sunrises and sunsets, Morris said she is inspired by Kehlani’s album cover for “SweetSexySavage” and wants to incorporate the intense colors and her feelings from listening to the album into her work. She said she also prefers to use nature as a mirror for the human body in the background of her work, such as using oranges to underscore Black femininity.

“I’ll include an orange because oranges have – historically in portraiture – been used as a representation of feminine fertility,” Morris said. “What does it mean if I put this next to somebody who’s not used to being shown in portraiture? … I wanted to incorporate elements of traditional portraiture like orange peels to symbolize elements of femininity through the concept of my own self.”

Morris said Western portraiture excluded subjects that looked like her, so she aims to represent herself, her family and others in her own portraits. (Courtesy of Ebony Morris)

[Related: Maker’s Medium: Perry Hernandez works to create accessible art through oil painting]

For Morris, her friends are supportive of her fine arts practice. Her friend, third-year African American studies student Justin Scott, said he has followed Morris journey with art since their first year at UCLA. Having watched Morris grow as an artist, Scott said her work expresses vulnerability. He said lately Morris has been expressing thoughts that are difficult to say out loud with her practice.

“Her art tends to strike something to most people that look at it,” Scott said. “Whether it be the facial expressions of the people that she chooses, whether it be the eyes, … her art really makes you reflect what part of yourself is at that moment.”

Angela Savage, Morris’ childhood friend, said Morris places her feelings on the page with unfiltered and powerful pieces. Because of the emotional nature of her pieces, Savage said she is sometimes taken aback by how strongly Morris’ art makes her feel. Savage said Morris can put her emotions into something physical that people can observe.

During the pandemic, Morris said she worked on murals in Oakland and she wants to continue to do so in the future. For Scott, Morris’ art will become something many people can relate to. He said Morris had recently been digesting her feelings with her art and that he expects her work to become more intimate.

“The art itself I know is going to be phenomenal and just grow and grow and grow and grow,” Scott said. “As her technique increases and she just continues to (practice art), it is going to be like, ‘Wow.'”

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