Bethany Owens wants to start a conversation—one that invites all cultures and nationalities to discuss the current racial climate of America in a safe space. So she photographed and curated a photo exhibit titled "Being a Person of Color in America." It’s an expressive look into the lives of those who feel ignored—a chance for their stories to be heard and understood.
The exhibition last Saturday featured portraits of people of color from a variety of backgrounds and was housed at Zumix, a national non-profit multicultural center. Zumix is located in East Boston and provides free and reduced-price classes for music, acting, and dancing. Owens attended their after school programs in high school.
Owens began working on the project back in September when she saw Flawless Brown’s call for submissions for the third issue of the magazine, put together by Emerson students who identify as people of color.
Half the photos were published in the fall issue of Flawless Brown’s Flawless Mag and the other half will be featured in the spring issue.
Owens started putting together the more detailed aspects of the exhibition in December and made a GoFundMe page to raise money for supplies to construct the exhibit and put on the event.
Owens said she loved going to Zumix when she was younger and, for that reason, all the proceeds from the ticket sales at the event were donated to the center.
The portraits of each of the 12 models were on raised shadow boxes situated on multiple tables around the room. A statement or anecdote written by each of the models accompanied each picture.
The exhibit also prompted visitors to share their own experiences on pieces of paper, which were then hung up on a clothesline. The theme of the exhibit was based around the idiom “air out dirty laundry,” symbolizing the act of speaking out in front of others about things that are not usually discussed in public.
Victoria Deck, a sophomore political communication major and Owens’ roommate who attended the event, said she was struck by the way Owens was able to capture people in the photographs.
“It’s like you’re able to see their soul, and you can tell a lot about their personality,” Deck said. “Because the exhibit is talking about what people of color go through, you feel more empathy because it’s connected to a specific person.”
Owens said she explored sewing and painting when she was younger, and also found photography to be successful medium to express herself through art.
“Photography has been a part of my life for a really long time, and I’ve been really artsy from the beginning,” Owens said.
An active artist, Owens sells her various art for income, whether it be paintings, photography, or other mediums. Her company is called Punkster Photography.
Jonas Spencer, a freshman journalism major and a model for the project, said he knew he wanted to be a part of the exhibition as soon as he saw Owens’ request for volunteers on Facebook.
“I want all of them, all of the people pictured, to be an eye-opener to everyone in America,” Spencer said. “I love the exhibit, it’s informational and meant for people to look at things from a different perspective.”
Lucie Pereira, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major and editor-in-chief of Flawless Mag, said Flawless Brown’s main goal is to share the experiences of women of color.
“We’re a sisterhood and a collective of women trying to find stories and art and publish them,” Pereira said. “Getting to share that voice with everyone is really cool, and at the same time we are gaining new talents and skills.”
According to Owens, one of the reasons she was inspired to create this exhibit was to get the models’ voices heard. She said she didn’t want people of color to be pushed back in the shadows.
“I’m sharing these stories and getting them out there to show this country that we need real change,” Owens said.
Owens said she wants this exhibition to expand and travel in order to grow the discussion and keep people talking.
“I love making people feel beautiful and powerful, and in this exhibition I feel like the their words were being backed up by the pictures,” Owens said.
This article has been updated to correct a mischaracterization of Owen's work.