In 2018, artist Ebony H. Flag, the Arts Council of Princeton’s Spring 2020 Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence, was challenged by one of her mentors to think about how she identifies as an artist. She began to look at her body of work and noticed that the common theme throughout was liberty, which led to her realization that she is a Liberation Artist.
“For me, being a Liberation Artist is about creating a space and platform for telling the stories of people who society often marginalizes,” says Ebony. “My aim is to challenge the consciousness of those who collect art to consider who controls the narrative and ask the question, ‘what is your intention of providing such a narrative?’ I aim to bring a greater awareness to matters of social justice and break social stereotypes. I believe art can and does play a part in making this happen.”
The arts have always been a part of Ebony’s life. She describes her parents, Dwayne and Gina Ceasar, as being very talented individuals. Her father is a natural musician and professional carpenter, and according to Ebony, her mother “can work wonders with food, which has been a source of comfort for many over the years”.
“My earliest influences came from being surrounded by the natural creativity of my family. When we were growing up my parents were always working and being the oldest sibling at home, I had to become a leader to my siblings,” explains Ebony. “This helped when I got to college and eventually pursued a leadership position to help cut costs of my room and board. That position and my time at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design were significant. It was during my time at Moore that I found my voice and vowed to always speak the truth.”
Ebony recalls being in the Dean of Student Life’s office when another student asked her “Why are all the people in your artwork Black?” Taken by surprise and not sure what to say, her supervisor broke the silence by responding, “She’s drawing what’s familiar and close to her.” Ebony remembers that it was said in such a reassuring tone. “Although her answer only touched the surface of my thoughts, I was so thankful for her advocacy at that moment. I learned to speak my truth respectfully, regardless of who was around”, she says.
After graduating in 2008 with a BFA in Illustration, Ebony had difficulty finding a job. After an exhaustive job search, she pursued her other passion, working with underprivileged youth. It was during this time as a counselor and teacher’s assistant that she began to experience art as a universal way of communicating.
“I realized one of the reasons the youth gravitated to me was because I listened and could connect with them through the arts.”
After a few years of working full-time, she missed having the time to create her own art. As a result, she began to work part-time while producing her own works as EHF Creations, allowing her to work in a way that brings all her passions together.
She is quick to point out, “a good support system is needed when navigating the art world, and I am thankful for a loving, supportive spouse and a family who encourages me”.
On the role of art in creating a greater awareness of racism, social stereotypes, and injustice:
“When a person encounters art that centers on liberation, I believe these encounters can be catalysts in helping wrestle with one’s own privilege, possibly resulting in feelings of guilt, and/or even offense. Observers are challenged to look at themselves and consider what part they play in either dismantling or perpetuating racism, injustice, and social stereotypes.
It is my intention and hope that introspection will not only stimulate – but create – a positive internal change that overflows into systemic changes, bringing about equity and justice for all.
Predominately white institutions, now more than ever, need to be held accountable to showcase art that will stir hearts toward systemic change. However, that can only occur when Black art, that is often deemed uncomfortable to digest, is not segregated to being highlighted for just 28 days during a particular month of the year.”
My pandemic days:
“During this pandemic, I’ve taken the time to consider what I would like to pursue next in my life – a master’s in art therapy and counseling. I believe this will not only enrich my work, but also enhance my skill set as an educator when teaching art empowerment classes and workshops. During this hectic time of navigating this pandemic, I’ve spent my time creating digital sketches and taking long walks. What I miss the most is physically being a part of the creative community, the laughs, and the smell of linseed oil.”
Advice for individuals struggling with isolation at this time:
“Lean into your support system whether that’s a loved one and/or friends. Make new friends by way of a virtual community, and take long drives blasting your favorite music. Also learn to embrace the quiet time, that’s when you learn so much about yourself and even brainstorm new creations and even future aspirations.
- Beyoncé especially her album “Lemonade”
- Maya Angelou – she not only spoke words of wisdom, but displayed strength through her vulnerability.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage” – Maya Angelou
- Salvador Dali – although I’m not a fan of Dali as an individual, I am intrigued by his technical skill and use of symbolism in his body of surrealist art.
The Future Me mural:
In February 2020, as ACP Artist-in-Residence, Ebony began working with students from the ACP’s ArtsExchange program on an interior mural titled The Future Me. For this project, students were asked to think about what careers they might want to pursue when they are older and why. Due to the pandemic, the mural was put on pause but will be completed this summer.
“We were actually set to be finished sooner than its originally scheduled completion date, that’s how much enthusiasm was brewing when I began working on this mural with the ArtsExchange students and interns! My goal is for students to be able to look at this art and see a reflection of themselves, knowing they belong here. The mural consists of vibrant colors to remind our youth they are a light, even on their most challenging days, so shine bright and dare to dream”.
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