VCU alumna Ayanah Moor reflects on artistic progress

By Safia Abdulahi, The Commonwealth Times

Alumna Anayah Moor started at VCUarts with a passion for redefining art, and now she lives in Chicago with her art displayed in a variety of international museums. 

Moor graduated with a degree in painting and printmaking from VCUarts in 1995 before earning her Master of Fine Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1998. Her art has been displayed in places such as the DePaul Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and Soho House in London. 

Moor’s art has also been presented in scenes of the blockbuster 2021 film, Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and written by Jordan Peele, which follows the legend of a hook-handed murderer through the lens of an artist.

Moor is a conceptual artist who has been creating artwork professionally for over 20 years. She works with different mediums of art such as printmaking, performance, collage, painting and collaboration with other artists.

“I’m really interested in centering people who aren’t often lifted up and elevated,” Moor said. “Specifically as a Black woman, a Black American, I’m really interested in work that not necessarily represents, but in some way centers the experience of Black women.”

Moor said that her paintings don’t focus on Black women solely, but small figures of Black women are shown in her art to center around Black women’s experience. She does this by including figures of Black women in the details of her abstract paintings.  

Moor describes art as something that can be interpreted in different ways, based on the viewer’s personal experiences and perceptions of the art.

“I think that the great thing about art is that the artists can have their intention, but the viewer comes to the work with their own experience in the world, their own interests, concerns, even biases,” Moor said. “They can have a range of responses, they can leave with confusion, they can leave with inspiration, they can leave with admiration.”

Moor said she stopped painting at the beginning of her career and worked mainly on printmaking. She said she just recently revisited painting within the last five years, and that her most recent artwork explores the representation of Black women. 

Moor’s paintings are largely abstract, containing collage elements featuring Black women that are placed within the painting. One of Moor’s recent creations, Diamonds Led, Get in the Game, is an acrylic painting with different shapes and colors all over the canvas, and in the left center of the painting there’s a small figure of a Black woman. 

Moor said an aspect in her art that she’s interested in utilizing is the representations of Black women and femmes in particular, defined as individuals who identify as lesbian and behave in a feminine manner. 

Moor said she does this with the incorporation of advertisements of Black models in her collage because she wants to evoke certain emotions.

Moor said she previously focused on printmaking that covered walls with prints to enclose the viewer in her work, during the time period she took a break from painting. 

Other works she’s done include a performative art piece titled Offerings, in conjunction with interdisciplinary artist Jamila Raegan, to memorialize people who were victims of police brutality. 

“I would say that my work has evolved over the 20 years, and the work that I’m making right now is definitely strengthened by the pieces that I’ve made and what I’ve learned, and also just getting older,” Moor said. “I think that I’m collapsing all of that experience into this form of painting.”

Lydia Thompson is a friend and a former mentor of Moor, and is also a current professor of art and art history at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Thompson was the assistant dean of undergraduate studies at VCU and Moor’s mentor during her time at VCU.

Thompson said, one day on campus, Moor approached her and asked if she would be her mentor and Thompson agreed. 

“One day, she walks up to me and she says ‘you know, I’d like for you to mentor me,’ and I was like, ‘well yeah, that’d be great,’” Thompson said. “And so to me, those are the best kind of mentor-mentee relationships, when it’s organic.”

Thompson said she has had a friendship with Moor for over 20 years and that her relationship with Moor eventually helped Moor with her own relationships with her students. Moor was able to use her artistic experiences to influence and teach students, especially students of color, according to Thompson. 

Thompson recommended an associate professor position in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University to Moor, where she ended up teaching for several years. 

“The way that I think our relationship has furthered her development professionally is that she’s done the same thing that we’ve done,” Thompson said. “She’s developed these relationships with her students.”

Thompson said that VCU education was just the beginning of Moor’s career as an artist and how she has been able to “diversify” her practice throughout the years.

“One thing I will say about Ayanah [Moor] is that even her education at VCU gave her the license to practice outside of what she was taught,” Thompson said. “She was trained as a printmaker, but her work has evolved so much, she’s been able to diversify what she does, and her voice.”

Cara Benedetto, assistant professor of painting and printmaking at VCU, stated her appreciation for Moor and her practice. Benedetto stated in an email that she knew Moor’s artwork and was a “fan” before she knew her in person. 

“I appreciate her generosity, towards community endeavors, as a teacher at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and as an artist who considers the multiple and dissemination key to their practice,” Benedetto stated.

Lead Image: VCU alumna Ayanah Moor’s artworks titled Free to Be Myself that includes acrylic, ink wash, graphite, vintage Ebony magazine page, plastic cord and crayon on wood panel. Photo courtesy of Ayanah Moor.