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Annie Ruth's New Exhibit Explores 'Weight Of The World' Black Women Carry

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Photo by Cara Owsley
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Annie Ruth surrounded by some of her artwork, which will be on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center beginning Friday, July 9, through Aug. 30.

A new exhibit by Cincinnati artist Annie Ruth explores the experiences of Black women, particularly amid the pandemic and racial reckoning of the past 18 months. Her work is part of a series of exhibits and performances happening through ArtsWave's "Truth and Reconciliation" themed project that's meant to uplift the experiences of people of color. 

"The exhibit is called 'On Her Shoulders,' and I really wanted to do think pieces that gave the world a clear view of what it feels like, as a Black woman, to have the weight of the world on your shoulders, and to have to be there for everybody," she says. 

Ruth created 12 mural-sized paintings for the exhibit, which is opening at the Cincinnati Museum Center Friday and running through Aug. 30. 

She says her pieces explore a range of issues from allyship with women of different races and the murder of George Floyd to cornbread and collards. 

One of her paintings, "My Sister For Real, For Real?," depicts the protests and civil unrest sparked by the murder of Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

"So it's actually a picture of a Black and a white woman that are kind of intertwined. You have all these protest signs ... One sign says, 'Mama,' and I'll tell you why it says 'Mama.' When we were glued to our television, and we saw the murder of George Floyd right in front of us, we heard him call out 'Mama' …  If you're my sister for real, for real, when he called 'Mama,' every mother or every woman should have heard that call," she said.

In another painting, called "Revealing Superwoman," a woman pulls open her shirt to reveal an African Adinkra symbol. 

"On one hand, you almost kind of feel like you have to be Superwoman. Even though people say, 'Oh, hey, you know, there's a Superwoman syndrome.' We're not really living through a syndrome. It's real life for us. It's either you're there, or it all breaks to pieces," she said. 

Ruth says she uses bright primary colors in her artwork and made an effort for the paintings to be enjoyed by all ages — from kids who are enjoying the vivid colors to adults taking in the nuanced message of the pieces. 

Her work was funded by ArtsWave, which teamed with Duke Energy to offer $200,000 to Black artists and other artists of color to amplify their voices. The theme for the work was truth and reconciliation. She was one of five master artists selected to receive a grant for the pieces. 

Whitney Owens, chief learning officer at the museum, says Ruth reached out to museum officials to have her art displayed because she's spent years working in collaboration with them. 

"We jumped at the chance," Owens said. "We have to do it, because we have loved working with Annie for so long that she's been an incredibly valued partner of the museum, in programming, and as an artist and as a storyteller. And it just all came together." 

A reception and talk with Ruth is happening July 16 from 1-3 p.m. at the Cincinnati Museum Center. But for people who miss the talk, she says she'll periodically drop by the exhibit, and invites people to have a conversation with her about the work.