Aug 25, 2022

A Rediscovery, A Softness

By: Lawana Holland-Moore

“Softness is the thing that gets broken in you very early—sometimes often— and it’s a thing you have to find your way back to. I had to find that in me,” said Senegalese-born artist Linda Dounia Rebeiz. “That’s where Resurrection took me back to. That childlike softness and the moments that forged that.”

Rebeiz was commissioned to create an interpretation of Alma Thomas’s painting Resurrection for the White House Historical Association. Resurrection is the first artwork by an African American woman to be featured within the White House and to be included as part of the historical association’s permanent collection. 

Alma Thomas, the first graduate of Howard University’s art department in 1924, did not paint professionally until a health crisis 40 years later. Her arthritis acted as the catalyst that led her to discover and create in a new abstract style when she was in her 70s. Thomas once said that her work was “different from anything I’d ever done. Different from anything I’d ever seen.” Thomas’s Resurrection, with its mosaic-like patterns of bright colors, was a declaration of freedom.

Rebeiz says that there are so few examples of Black artists to hold onto and be connected to history. Inspired by Thomas’s story, she saw commonalities with her own, including the need to slow down to process past trauma from her early adolescence, which spurred Rebeiz’s artistic reawakening. “This [digital] work is a new direction. I had to give myself a new start in life. This work is so firmly rooted within that pre-trauma period connected to nature, a freedom state, still in that moment. In a way I still felt free.” 

As a Black woman, Rebeiz knows she is a rarity, seeing the uphill challenges Black artists face in the traditional art world. Releasing a few older art pieces as NFTs, Rebeiz was shocked by the positive response they received. She was able to build a niche career for herself within the digital fine arts space, connecting with supportive mentors and collectors. Seeing digital art as a movement and revolution, Rebeiz feels that “is the good of NFTs. It is a technology that allows people who traditionally don’t have access to avenues to build a career in the arts, do that.” 

Rebeiz founded the Cyber Baat collective of African-based creatives and artists, with a mission to subvert the idea of African arts. “There’s so much diversity that we cannot afford to lose. We try to be unabashedly ourselves and try to protect our freedom and agency to express ourselves,” says Rebeiz. “We happen to make art and share a colonial history, but we are also coming from very different perspectives that each are worth valuing, appreciating and celebrating. The blockchain allows us to do that. There’s no gatekeeping.”

Rebeiz is blazing a new path for future Black women artists as a digital arts innovator, which includes using her art as a form of healing. “It’s so easy to go at the world in a confrontational way, especially when you’re hurt by it. You have to transcend that to get to the softness. That’s like Resurrection to become soft again. To survive all that and stay soft. That’s the ultimate power.”