Vashti Dubois was for years sick and tired of not seeing any images of Black girls or women in art galleries and museums. So in 2014, she decided to do something about it. That gave birth to The Colored Girls Museum in the historic neighborhood of Germantown in Philadelphia which celebrates everything Black womanhood. With her curator, Michael Clemmons, associate director Ian Friday, and partners, Dubois, in her early 50s, transformed her three-storied, 127-year-old home into the museum to share the stories, history and experiences of Black girls and women.
“There are a lot of museums about a lot of different things, so we thought there should be one about the coloured girl because there are no places that look at their experiences,” the Philadelphia woman told Metro.co.uk. “We want to show who she is in her day-to-day life as a sister, a lover, a friend, an artist, a victim. We want to show that if there were no coloured girls, the system would collapse.”
Dubois started off by opening one room of her home to the public. She then turned her bedroom, the bathroom, her son’s bedroom and the kitchen into art galleries. Today, there is art behind almost every door. The museum has a collection of artefacts, paintings, textiles, sculptures, and dolls. In each room are art installations by artists telling the stories of Black women. Their work and objects live alongside Dubois’ family’s belongings.
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Dubois first had to look for the artists herself but soon some of the world’s top artists walked to her, expressing their readiness to work with her. In time, her home-turned-museum came to be associated with amazing African artworks, faceless dolls, and beautiful images of African-American girls dressed liked Disney princesses, Metro.co.uk reported. As the executive director of the museum, Dubois hosts temporary exhibits and offers guided tours on certain days. Her first major exhibition — A Good Night’s Sleep — was inspired by her bedroom, she said. The show attracted around 1,000 visitors and scores of artists who contributed their work.
“What does every colored girl want? A good night’s sleep. It is so important for our soul, our health, our being, so I was delighted with the various artists’ interpretations of this.”
Some visitors have narrated stories of how they were initially left startled seeing paintings representing the four girls from Birmingham, Alabama who were killed by a Klu Klux Klan bomb in 1963 — a prime focus of the civil rights movement. Indeed, Dubois doesn’t shy away from making political statements through her work.
When America elected Donald Trump in 2016 instead of a woman president, it hurt her so much so that she altered the interior of her home, with each room of her house having a doctor’s note depicting the pain she felt Black girls and women were about to experience. Dubois, a widow, has said that her museum is a “sensory experience” that will take visitors on a “journey of loss, joy, healing and memory.”
With women specifically, she hopes they leave her museum realizing their enormous power no matter the circumstances. “I hope when black women come here they see a piece of themselves, they feel the peace, the intention,” she told Essence. “I hope that this ordinary house becomes a demonstration of what we mean when we say where you are and what you have is good enough.”