Two Milwaukee Artists Are Building Connections Through Hoop Earrings

Oct 6, 2020

Nicole Acosta is a Milwaukee native and a first-generation multi-disciplinary Mexican artist. Her work reflects the exploration of her identity, experience and storytelling. Her photography work, The HOOPS Portrait Project, features portraits of Black and brown women in their hoop earrings and sharing their stories of what the jewelry means to them.

Artist Zaw Trance uses portrait painting to blend spirituality, Blackness, and the use of unnatural skin colors to convey messages, along with writing her own poetic responses to each painting.

Each artist uses her medium to connect with and share stories of women of color who are often pushed out of mainstream narratives. A new Arts @ Large exhibit called “Energy and Power: History, Hoops, and Words of Affirmation” features both Trance and Acosta’s work in one, shared space.

Acosta explains that hoop earrings are often used against Black and brown women in the United States to claim they are unprofessional and remove them from white spaces.

“This project is actually like reclaiming the narrative and it’s saying, ‘Actually no ... hoop earrings, they go deeper than that, they mean a lot more than that,” says Acosta.

Trance's piece, "Michaela Is Here," which showcases her use of color to expand the viewers' imagination of her subjects.
Credit Zaw Trance

For Trance, her work in portraits has allowed her to explore her own feelings while capturing the essence of her model. In this project, she channeled all of the incredible women in her life and even got some to model for her.

“I do see a lot of my models as these otherworldly beings,” says Trance. “People have multiple faces, they’re not just one color, they’re not just one person. They can be multi-dimensional.”

That's why she uses so many colors in her paintings, so people can reimagine her subjects in a new light.

Acosta’s work in photography has also focused on portraiture. In the past, she's kept the subject's story to herself and let the photos speak. But this is her first project where she's using her photography to help others speak.

“By taking photographs, it’s creating space for people to also share their story,” says Acosta.

Both artists hope this collaboration helps show the connections between different cultures through the shared love of hoop earrings.

“That was like the common factor in all of this, and it became a bridge for us to connect, to break down stigmas, and to kind of like assert ourselves in the world,” says Acosta.