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St. Louis artist paints exaggerated portraits to empower the Black community

"I know what it feels like to not be seen in a way that we should be."

ST. LOUIS — Art can do more than simply bring color to a room.  Art can also bring awareness to the viewer. It is what St Louis artist Ebony Johnson Wright tries to do. She uses her paints, brushes, and canvases as her voice to give Black people self-confidence. 

“I can be expressive. I can be myself,” she said.

She works on large pieces.  

“I use 3 foot by 4 foot canvases,” she said. She paints big portraits on them.

“All of the portraits I create, it commands your attention,” she told 5 On Your Side.  The facial features of her subjects are exaggerated.  “I want you to see them for who they are,” she said.

The painting style allows the viewer to take ownership in their own appearance.  “I used to get talked about, about having big features like big noses and big eyes.  And so I wanted to celebrate that,” she added.

This type of celebration isn’t something that Black Americans have had the chance to experience in the art world.  “I know how it feels to be not seen in the way that we should be seen. I want my work to be in places that they weren’t welcomed,” she said.

But Johnson Wright wants her works to not only be seen, but she also wants their message to be heard.  “I have more to speak about now. The message is basically allowing Black people to feel empowered,” she explained.

She felt as if that message was coming across during a recent showing at the University of Central Missouri.  “It was unreal to hear the comments and feedback saying that I was like, I made them feel important,” she said. 

Art gives her an inner strength.  “This is a way for me to be confident,” she said.  She’s also confident that her works can provide the same strength to the world around her.  “Yes hopefully. Yes,” she said. 

Johnson Wright is currently a senior at the University of Central Missouri. She is majoring in studio art and art education.  She says that she would love to teach art one day. 

If you would like to see more of her works and find out where her next show will be, click here.