A Milwaukee photographer has given minority women from the city a chance to make their voices heard — through pictures. Corey Fells created the "100 Womxn Project," which is currently on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in Washington County.
The exhibition features photos of millennial minority women — people Fells says may rarely get a chance to share their perspectives on life.
Fells grew up on the north side of Milwaukee. From a young age, he says he was taught that many women of color rarely have the chance to make their voices heard. He learned that from his mother, who passed away several years ago. See, she'd make him read and write a book report before he could enjoy summer vacation. He’d read books like Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Color Purple.
“She always emphasized to me that there’s women in society here that are not really given a voice. They aren’t really talked about or they’re not given proper respect,” he says.
Fells jokingly calls himself a mama’s boy. But he says his mother’s influence contributed to his effort to create a photography exhibition that brings attention to women of color.
“I really wanted to make a story that is really compelling and really told like a real true story about Milwaukee. So, the truest, genuine story: I thought about that will really connect to a lot of people around the world and the country, I thought would be about minority millennial women — specifically, more Hispanic and black women. Their stories aren’t really told as often as other ethnicities and obviously their male counterparts.”
His "100 Womxn Project" shows young women from a variety of backgrounds, in various stages of their lives. The museum exhibition features 16 portraits from the 100 images Fells collected.
He says he took the photos over the course of three months in front of the same, vine-covered wall. Depending on the season it was covered in vibrant greenery, fall leaves changing colors, or bare vines.
“I just took a walk to work from my house on the east side of Milwaukee and I just saw this beautiful, huge wall which is natural vines. And it just looked really aesthetically pleasing, but I wanted to kind of make it something that meant something if I wanted to take a photo there,” he explains.
Fells says the women were able to show their personalities in the portraits.
During the photo shoot, he'd ask them to share stories — about their personal lives or careers — and he'd capture their expressions. Some of the women made silly faces. Some were smiling and laughing. Others were serious.
He started taking photos of his close female friends, which is how the project first started.
“They’re really influential in the city, so I knew if I took photos of them, other women would be compelled to take photos also. So, I carefully chose about 10 to 12 women that I knew in certain pockets of Milwaukee because I really wanted to be a very eclectic project where different people from different sides of the city were able to feel like they were welcome to join. And I allowed those women to tell their stories; kind of tell compelling, very truthful stories that you wouldn’t even … you can look at a person and assume so many different things, but you don’t know what really makes that person or what they really lived through," he says.
Fells' photos from The "100 Womxn Project" are on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in Washington County through Sunday, Jan. 13.
He says he's grateful the museum gave him the opportunity to showcase his work — and to help give young women of color a voice.
Fells hopes to set an example, in the growing photography culture in Milwaukee. He'd like to see others showcase their skills.
Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.
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