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Give Yourself Permission: Anissa Lewis on Social Practice, The Power of Words, & Being Right On Time

The work of Anissa Lewis dives into memory, yet is entrenched in her current community. Her photographs depict the present-day area in Covington, Kentucky, where Lewis grew up, and addresses the societal changes such as race, identity and relationships that have impacted the area over time. Images of the former residents are superimposed over images of the houses, to tell the stories of the people who made up the neighborhood decades ago. Lewis’s community-based signs address the here-and-now of citizenry, giving individual voices space to speak positively together. Lewis’s artistic work is intertwined with the community, and is constantly engaging with and responding to how the community shifts and changes over time.

In this episode, she describes her shift from a more traditional art background to finding and embracing social practice art. Anissa R. Lewis, community and teaching artist, was born and raised in Covington, KY by way of Philadelphia, PA—where she relocated after receiving her MFA from Yale School of Art. Lewis’ deep belief in community, identity and voice led her to many projects and collaborations including: an arts-based women empowerment classes for a Philadelphia County prison drug and alcohol abuse unit; a rites of passage program for black and brown teenage girls; student driven mural projects aimed to address civic engagement, neighborhood relationships and identity, and others.

Lewis’ work focuses on the power of place in her hometown neighborhood for which she has received a Creative Community Grant from the Center for Great Neighborhoods. Her photo-based prints, love letter yard signs and maps seek to reconcile her memories of childhood with the present-day neighborhood's changing social fabric, identity and the architecture of homes still present and those lost.

“While walking down a street in my hometown, many of my childhood friends’ homes are either boarded up or gone and now exist as open lots. The change of the neighborhood does not stop at physical structures, but includes race, age, socioeconomics, a community’s identity/culture, its aspirations and relationships. At the end of my walk down the street and memory lane, I realized that the neighborhood where I grew up no longer exists. New stories lay atop mine. This is nothing new in and of itself. I accept my insider/outsider perspective created by my relationship to a place that lives in a time past rather than what is physically present now.

In my photo-based prints, I seek to reconcile past and current my thoughts and experiences regarding these separate yet overlapping places about my childhood neighborhood. I do this by taking childhood photos and transposing them atop current houses in the neighborhood. As such, I am attempting to have a conversation about: What are the new stories alive and here now? Who is telling these new stories? In what ways do they differ from mine? What, if anything, remains from years ago that resonates with what now exists? Or, are stories and experiences parallel to the point where one longtime resident said, “I feel like a stranger in my own neighborhood." -AL


-Discovering things you thought weren’t for you but now are for you.

-Where you are born and where you find community

-Being Different-all valid and important to celebrate

- FInding support and the importance in that

-When a one year sabbatical turns into a more substantial stay.

-Working for a non-profit about conflict resolution

-Discovering an interest in mixed-media

-The early 2000s was not as community based in terms of art practice

-Wanting to give back

-Navigating becoming a social practice artist

-”Do not need to split myself and do this art or that art.”

-Being civically engaged

-Believing in the power or words

-Neo Soul

-You are always right on time

-Dare to be clear and dare to be deliberate in your work

-Inappropriate comparisons

Thank you to our sponsor Sunlight Tax! Tax and money specifically for artists!

Artist Shoutouts:

House full of Women


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