By BrassyBrown.com Editor
Soraya Jean-Louis McElroy is a Haitian born mixed media artist. Her love of black women, families, nature, Afrofuturism, comics, graphic novels and the African diaspora are central themes in her work. Her creative process seeks to explore the complexities and/or simplicities of: identity, womanism, motherhood, racism, Eros, spirituality, cosmetology, ancestral alchemy and beauty. Soraya’s work as an organizer, mentor, counselor, doula, medical anthropologist and African folklorist has shaped her commitment to resisting oppression through art.
Soraya worked with her younger sister, Fabiola Jean- Louis, who is a conceptual photographer, to create Tulane University’s Audre Lorde Week poster.
To begin, Soraya sat with the poem, “Call” by Audre Lorde. The first stanza reads:
Holy ghost woman
Stolen out of your name
whose faces have been forgotten
Mother loosen my tongue or adorn me
with a lighter burden
Aido Hwedo is coming.
“The poem reminded me of an existing piece I created called “Yoni Power” about the power of African diaspora womyn. It was the perfect background and context to super-impose her beauty. Audre Lorde and many other womyn of color artists are always informing my work,”says Soraya.
I’m not a formally trained artist – my experiences, ideas, dreams for my people and Afro-Caribbean-ness has given me valuable skills to explore and express what’s in my heart. That’s the best training to me: just loving and embracing my whole black womyn self and presenting my truth(s) to the world.”
– Soraya Jean-Louis McElroy
Soraya also credits New Orleans as being a “lovely instigator” of her work. She met and married her husband in NOLA, suffered the loss of their firstborn and conceived and celebrated their second child’s birth in The Big Easy. Soraya began creating and connecting to her ancestral roots in New Orleans as a result of love and loss.
As an immigrant, she learned from seeing her family constantly creating something out of very little or nothing at all. By observing her parents and Afro-Caribbean communities, she was always inspired to live a creative life.
“When I consider the planet of myself, I know that I am full of resources and never-ending art,” she says.
She credits Octavia Butler, Krista Franklin, Frida Kahlo, Wangechi Mutu, Karen Walker, Sa-Roc, Lynnee Denise, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Adrienne Maree Brown, Walidah Imarishi, Ibi Zoboi, and others with keeping her innovative.
She thanks her husband and support network for helping her pursue art full-time, but admits she still faces many challenges. “Creating in isolation doesn’t exist for me. I’m a mother and wife. An artist needs the mental and physical space to be creative. Supplies and even artist retreats can be costly,” she conceded. Soraya dreams of having grants or community space to make art without financial burden. She also finds it difficult to show her work in white galleries and other established art spaces. She admits that being an artist can have its frustrating moments. “I don’t want to share work where I’m not valued. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone.”