Instead of purchasing bed sheets decorated with the widely produced fair-skinned character, my parents sought out and special ordered sheets that depicted a black Barbie princess. As Nigerian immigrant parents of first-generation Americans, they took steps wherever possible to instill in their children a sense of pride in African culture. However, internalizing the significance of being a black female in America came with the gradual realization that people have predetermined assumptions about who I am based on the color of my skin. I felt that everything I did was held against a singular stereotype to which I was constantly oscillating between measuring up and falling short. Although this awareness stunned me, my skin has never been the only color that has affected my life. I understood that through my art, I continuously teach others that the color of my skin does not represent uniformity, but nuance and a rich cultural history.
As I pursued my B.F.A. in studio art, I began to feel comfortable using art as a platform for public narratives about diversity. This process culminated in Tender-headed, my senior B.F.A. art exhibition, in which I created a series of large portraits of me and my siblings having our thick, nappy hair braided. Each painting conveys a variety of expressions that exhibit the internal struggle of growing up with managing something that simultaneously sets you apart and defines your identity. As these paintings were also embroidered with thread, the process of creating these artworks was time-consuming and painstaking, yet art proved to be a compatible vehicle for my message.
In my undergraduate career, I pursued Chapman University’s Peace Studies program because its focus on human rights and social justice served as a perfect supplement to my artistic practice. The knowledge that I have accumulated through my double major and working in various arts education capacities was indispensable as I engaged with diverse populations in my local community and abroad. Drawing upon my own experiences with art and learning, I creatively promoted literacy in my classrooms during my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Kolkata, India.
My recent acceptance to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is an integral step in expanding my impact and acquiring the skills necessary for working with art in community settings. Because my experience as a minority is a topic frequently seen in my work, courses at HGSE such as Public Narrative: Self, Us, Now and Designing for Learning and Educating to Transform Society: Preparing Students to Disrupt and Dismantle Racism will provide the knowledge and tools necessary to express empowering narratives more effectively. More importantly, my acceptance to Harvard affords me the possibility of working with partner organizations, like Harvard’s Project Zero, to implement community-based art projects that explore and express race and culture.
We are proud to announce Nimah Gobir is one of the current DiversityJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘heart’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.