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Austin photographer challenges stereotypes of Black women through library exhibit

Leta Harrison stands next to her photographs at her exhibit.
Ren Leija
KUT News
Leta Harrison stands next to her photographs during an opening night event for her exhibit, "Black Girls Don't Wear Red Lipstick," at the Austin Central Public Library.

Once told she was "too much," Leta Harrison reclaimed her voice as a Black woman through her photography. In an exhibit that opened last week at Austin's Central Public Library, she challenges stereotypical beauty standards.

“In my own experience, I've been told I can't do something because it's too loud, it's too bright, it's too bold," she said. "And that’s how this idea was born."

 “Black Girls Are Dimensionless" by Leta Harrison.
Courtesy of Leta Harrison
A photograph titled “Black Girls Are Dimensionless" on display at the library

Her exhibit, "Black Girls Don't Wear Red Lipstick," shows empowered women in diverse spaces, clothing and colors.

Harrison said she was inspired by Texas musician Kam Franklin, whom she saw give a talk at the Carver Museum.

Franklin was "always being told to be very modest," she said. "In her artist's talk, she mentioned ‘Black girls don't wear red lipstick’ and immediately I was very drawn to that."

The nonprofit OF COLOR co-curated the exhibit. Whitney Hamilton, its director of small events and artist engagement, said it's important that shows like Harrison's are featured in high-foot-traffic areas for visitors who would not otherwise know about an artist.

“Seeing this in this space continues with the work we're doing with OF COLOR — amplifying voices ... specifically BIPOC artists in the Austin community,” Hamilton said. “In the Austin Public Library, you have all walks of life coming in; they get a chance to witnesses it."

She said she was proud that she was able to help Harrison tell her story and amplify Black women in bold colors. She hopes other women see the exhibit — full of "different women from different walks of life, different shades, different tones" — and feel empowered.

Nicole Parker, the library's exhibit coordinator, became enamored with the concept and Harrison’s photographs. She said the library is a great spot for the artwork because people who don't typically go to galleries or museums can stumble across it.

“I think having an exhibit like this in the space ... exposes people to different types of art," she said. "It's sort of a democratic space, a welcoming space because everybody comes to the library and it's free and open to the public."

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