SILER CITY — The summer before her senior year at Jordan-Matthews High School, Tiana Brooks learned of George Floyd’s death and decided to paint something to help her process yet another Black …
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SILER CITY — The summer before her senior year at Jordan-Matthews High School, Tiana Brooks learned of George Floyd’s death and decided to paint something to help her process yet another Black person killed by police officers.
The resulting mixed-media piece, “Say Their Names,” features the names of Black women killed by police, to honor their lives and bring awareness to the issue.
Now, her piece is being featured in this year’s virtual Emerging Artists Invitational — an annual exhibition for high school artists sponsored by the Sechrest Gallery of Art and the High Point University School of Art and Design. Brooks is one of just 35 artists selected across the state for the exhibition.
“I always knew I wanted this piece in an art show or gallery, just to shine light on this piece and the meaning that it held,” Brooks said. “When I saw that it was in the Emerging Artists (Invitational), I knew right there — now’s a chance to shine a light on this art piece and to show the story behind it.
“I’m just grateful that I finally get to do that.”
Brooks first discovered art when she was “very young,” she said, and quickly started challenging herself to develop as an artist. She picked up painting her sophomore year, practicing almost every day.
While art is a hobby she enjoys and that keeps her busy, it’s more than that, Brooks said. Art also helps her to escape reality, and to deal with reality when it’s hard or when she’s struggling with her mental health.
“When I’m sad or mad, to slow down, I pick up my paintbrush and my paints,” she said. “And then I’m just in my own little world where I feel like I can do no wrong or harm to anything. I’m just myself, and I create anything that I put my mind to.”
As she continues to push herself as an artist, Brooks said she hopes to be featured in in-person galleries and museums.
Last week, JMArts — the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation — announced Brooks was commissioned to create work for the first-ever JMArts spring greetings cards — now on sale online. Brooks is a JMArts Scholar, meaning she was awarded a scholarship to continue art study over the summer.
Her digital work, “symbol of strength,” will appear on greeting cards sold by JMArts to raise money for J-M artists, the organization said in an email. Brooks received $100 for the rights to reproduce her work, and the back of each card lists her name along with a short artist statement.
“We wanted this project to be a learning experience for Tiana in the real world of commercial art, and the process of working with a client that has specific needs,” said JMArts organizer Rose Pate, who is the school’s media specialist. “I’m very pleased with how Tiana developed through that process, gaining experience in both its creative and technical aspects.”
“She’s not only a talented artist, but one of the nicest, most decent people I’ve had the privilege to work with,” added Chip Pate, Rose’s husband, who helped organize JMArts.
Ultimately, Brooks wants her art to continue to be seen by others so they can feel the emotions and hard work that goes into each and every piece.
“We often hear that life imitates art, but art also imitates life,” said Brooks’ art teacher Rahkie Mateen-Mason in another JMArts release announcing her exhibit feature. “In Tiana’s piece, ‘Say their Names’, Tiana tackled a really tough subject. I think what I admire most about Tiana is that her art is so personal that it often becomes universal.”
Brooks hopes people who see the piece will feel the emotions in the painting, and spread awareness for the women of color who lost their lives to police brutality.
Some of the names reflected in her piece include Natasha McKenna, Alexia Christian, Shelly Frey, Yvette Smith, India Beaty, Sherida Davis, Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland.
“That’s all I can really hope for, is for people to feel the emotions I felt — whether its sadness, anger, disappointment, whatever it is, from this piece and just express those feelings the best way they can,” Brooks said. “I didn’t expect my piece to make it into the show, but it was exciting … And I couldn’t help but feel blessed that I was able to make it.”
In the past, the Emerging Artist exhibition took place in the art gallery and culminated with a special program for students, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the works are in a virtual exhibition through April 19.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.