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Denise Miller

Artist Statement
“To make do” is a foundational philosophy that has guided both my life and my artistic practice.

It is clear that today, black and brown bodies are still being killed at alarming rates in towns and cities all over the United States. It is also clear that at this moment of my writing and at the moment of your reading, another brown or black body is probably falling in their mother’s front yard or on a city street that feels so much like Ferguson or Cleveland or on the couch in a living room of a house or on the front porch of another house in a city that looks so much like Detroit. Black and brown bodies have been named from auctions blocks and written in newspapers and other media as “those people” for centuries; and that identity created and written by white people who would lynch, white police officers who would shoot to kill and white judges and juries who would acquit, has been fatal. This is not new. Black people’s collective identity has been in the hands of white people for centuries because black people’s individual stories have been in told by white news reporters, white politicians, white authors, white people for just as long. As a result, black people’s bodies have been at the mercy of these same hands that have been able to, at any moment of movement toward autonomy, equality or right revolution, re-write the human as animal or re-write the freedom fighter or the child as criminal. From a Virginia runaway advertisement to a current news story about the background of another dead black body even before their blood stops stippling pavement, black people’s stories have been and continue to be spun so quickly and so thoroughly and so that suddenly their lives seem to justify the ending of them.

This historical trend and the desire to shift it has been the terrible muse for both my writing and my visual art. Art as social activism clearly reflects the foundational beliefs that drive the way I live and create in the world. Trained in visual art and writing (both creative and analytical), I have applied that training to grassroots art and organizing around social justice work. As co-founder of an arts and social justice non-profit that has as its focus the belief that creative justice has the potential to transform individuals and communities and it is this creative justice that drives both my subject/s and medium. As an artist, I have worked with many mediums, but am consistently pulled toward pastels, acrylics, markers and organic materials such as coffee and turmeric.  My work, with its focus on the historical “frames” that have been used to write marginalized people out of history, reflects the visual and political content and construct of runaway slave advertisement, historic newspaper clippings of lynchings, current news stories of the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police, protest posters, mugshots, infographic posters, maps and charts and graphs. These mediums and primary sources strongly influence the mixed media work that I create. It is my hope that by using these mediums and “frames” that my work will illuminate the historical mis-identification of people of color and then help rebuild an authentic identity of us that will lead less to the ending of or lives and more to the valuing of them.

My work has been featured in several local galleries and has also received national attention and exhibitions, receiving excellent reviews and creating many opportunities for individual and group dialogues around social justice issues relating to traditionally marginalized communities. I also consistently sell paintings and other mixed media pieces to private collections. Currently, I am working on several commissioned pieces as well as those that will be part of Controlling the Narrative.

"Black women are inherently valuable" print
Black Women are Inherently Valuable
For Women there are No Safe Places
For Women there are No Safe Places
Portrait, fine & mixed media art: acrylic, sharpie & oil pastels, "she was unarmed"
She was Unarmed
Portrait, fine & mixed media art: acrylic, sharpie & oil pastels, "He Was 12"
He was 12
Portrait, fine & mixed media art: acrylic, sharpie & oil pastels