Hard Feme Noir With Visual Artist, Amber Williams

The recognizable faces of the 1980's and 90's with the complimentary vibrant, multi-colors is the biggest draw. But staying for the commentary makes the memories that much more richer. If you're of a certain generation, and a Black woman who was once a Black girl in this particular period, there was a fertile inspiration in the artistic liberties and expression that an array Black singers, rappers, actress, etc. took on that in retrospect, inform many of our approaches to our current, personal endeavors as creators.

This reminder came in the form of Amber Williams' Untitled piece from 2014. 'Feme Noir' of a Saved By The Bell era Lark Voorhies with the sub-title, "black grrrls clearly not giving a fuck!". It's history in a bottle; the fact that Lark as Lisa Turtle was originally conceptualized as a white Jewish girl and made the role her own, more confident amongst the group than arguably any of the others. And when some snobby nerd tried to check her on personality and friend choices, she shut him down. To be a Black teenager in a very white SoCal socioeconomic space, "not giving a fuck" was brave and yes, a revolutionary continuity of Black women, consistently pushed into a corner and told who we are or who we should be. With this fun, introspective piece, Amber Williams fertilized these ideals with her own hands.

This Fresno, California native has a formal and gorilla approach to her education and praxis as a visual artist. She spent a lot of time absorbing VHS and record album covers along with taking photography, video, and design courses both in high school and community college. Relinquishing her fear of drawing, she's using the newly explored medium for a fresh body of work that delves into her love of horror. Her artwork series, 'hardfemenoir' chronicles "black womxn" in "punk rock, cult movies, hip-hop, television," and standing out with her slightly surrealist homage to the Black woman-as-heroine in horror.

Some of Amber's favorite horror films?

Nightmare on Elm St. 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Poltergeist (1982)
The Thing (1982)
Halloween II (1981)
Tales From the Hood (1995)
Get Out (2017)
Demons (1985)
REC (2007)
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
It Follows (2014)
The Craft (1996)
Vampire In Brooklyn (1995)

What is it about the horror genre that has inspired some of your art? How would you describe it to someone who doesn't quite understand the genre's appeal?

I think seeing Black women characters outside of comedy/drama films is exciting for me. Seeing Black women taking down supernatural forces and even in some cases surviving to the end is everything for me. In reality, dealing with misogynoir and the violence that comes with it makes seeing these characters prevail empowering. Even though it’s not a great film, I could not stop smiling at the end of Alien vs. Predator. I love Ripley, but watching Sanaa Lathan’s character Alexa Woods was very important for me. Representation matters!

In your multiple character 'hardfemenoir in Horror' work, explain why you choose these particular characters. What is it about each of them that is on target with your brand and beliefs about empowerment and the celebration of Black women?

When I first had the project in my mind, I already knew I wanted to include Jeryline from Demon Knight. I absolutely fell in love with her tomboy style and restlessness to see what’s beyond her small town. The same can be said about my reasons for choosing Rocky from Phantasm III. I picked Sheila from Nightmare on Elm Street because it is my favorite slasher series so I remember watching it for the first time and seeing a black grrrl and being stoked. Now I know The Howling II isn’t considered a impeccable film but the moment the character Mariana appears onscreen is all that matters to me. More Black women characters decked out it monster make-up and getting down and dirty in horror movies is much needed. 

All these women encapsulate hardfemenoir which is a brand that gives representation to black women who may not fit the restrictive ideal of Black womanhood.

The rejection of respectability politics, the male gaze and anti-blackness is the foundation of hardfemenoir. My aim is to highlight Black women who would be considered on the fringe of mainstream Black culture: punk rockers, nerds, metal heads, sex workers, feminists, tomboys, etc. I do this by creating pieces using existing Black women characters in pop culture or by creating my own original characters.

Discover more of Amber's work...

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