By Asha Elana Casey. Photography By Deun Ivory.
Here is the story of how I found God in myself described in five stages. And, this isn’t an immediate growth. These stages occur over the course of 7 years; from the beginning of my art practice to where I am now. I am still evolving and revisiting the stages in my daily life. My dream is that you’ll read this and take with you some hope and peace.
Stage 1: Lost Souls-H.E.R.
Your heart always knows what is and isn’t your story. When it’s right, nothing will fill its place.
My artwork is a literal manifestation of growth and self-esteem. As a child, I was always preoccupied with the cosmos. Questions about our reality echo in my mind as I try to make sense of what we deem normal. It wasn’t until I was faced with adversity that I had to do the internal work. I was searching for God outside of myself in a structure that didn’t reflect me. Art critiques in Undergrad were incredibly silent. I felt as if I could hear classmates whisper, “This isn’t your story.” My heart echoed the same sentiment.
Stage 2: Sinnerman- Nina Simone (Spirit Rises Series)
I have learned so much, and still I know nothing.
At this moment, I was beginning a body of work where Black women were adorned and surrounded by Gold and Gold space. I would hear, “Power! Power Lord!” as I lean into the artwork with more vigor than I originally had. My God had found me through Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Prose! I experienced a literal flash of the spirit. The book Flash of the Spirit spoke briefly about Ifa/Yoruba and Ancestor veneration. But, I continued to do the work. I did the research. I went to church (Bimbes/Akoms). I surrounded myself with the community and love. My job at a Private African centered school also became my spiritual home. Peace came from the Djembes that moved me to dance, the Pan African flag, and Freedom Fridays.
Stage 3: Holy/Bubbles- Jamila Woods (When Watching God Series)
How can I show you God, when I can’t see her in myself?
This is where the work really began. The idea of the Black woman as God was solidified. But, ideas and actions are completely different entities. I asked myself, “How do I love me?” The answer came through the emotion of joy. When did I feel love? When did I feel joy? I felt it when I danced, worshiped, I wrote, and I created. There is no greater gratification than actualizing a painting. The black and white artwork had a direct conversation with the ancestors. It revisited the framework of Black woman as God and asked the question, “How do we get to the God stage?”
Stage 4: Laila’s Wisdom-Rapsody (Watch the Throne/Ancestor Realm Series)
I wear my power in my aura, on my skin, and in my spirit.
We’ve made it to this year. The internal work is stable, but never complete. There is always more work to be done. There is always more love to give. My foundation is unshakeable. I can stack, add, and remove ideas without my integrity being compromised. I was whole by myself and the art would only grow from that realization. My technique is sharpening, and the women looked more and more real each time I painted them. The artwork is primarily gold, but it has other colors too. And now, the women themselves wear gold on their skin.
Stage 5: Hey- KING
There is freedom and power in absolute self-realization.
Stage 5 is the promise of self-love and the promise of the future. In my life, it means moving into the world unbowed and unafraid. In my art practice, it means that Black women maintain their gold skin, hair, teeth, clothes, and halos while navigating the different color auras of the world unbothered. Stage 5 is to move through the world with your foundation unshakeable despite adversity. And, it’s the understanding that you can always return to a stage and strengthen yourself and your resolve.
Because now, when asked to describe my art practice I can say this quote confidently,
“I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”- Ntozake Shange
Asha Elana Casey is a painter, mixed media artist, writer, and art teacher based in Washington, DC. She contributed to BGIO because writing is a release and it frees her spirit. Her self love practice includes African dance, Prayer, Painting, and Writing. You can find Asha Elana Casey at @ashacaseystudio and @wmnhealingsoul on Instagram, @ashacaseystudio on Twitter, and elanacaseystudio.com