A new exhibit celebrates the glory and strength of feminine bodies.

One with the Original Source|Divinely Feminine in All Your Glory by alumna Venise Lashon Keys ’16 is on display in Rachel Cooper Hall at Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS).

The work is a series of 50 vibrantly dancing African American female figures and is crafted of hand-cut paper made with a precision blade. “Some figures appear to leap, bend over, twist, jump, stretch, recline, and dance,” said Keys, who graduated with an MFA and a certificate from WGSS. “These simplified gestures and symbolisms carved into the paper affirm divine solidarity among feminine bodies, reflect sexual energy as strength, affirm womyn of different ethnic backgrounds, and celebrates diversity among all types of feminine-identifying bodies.”

artist in front of intricately hand-cut paper figures

Venise Lashon Keys ’16 with her work One with the Original Source|Divinely Feminine in All Your Glory on exhibit at Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Rachel Cooper Hall.

The exhibit is one of two that happen throughout the year at WGSS, said Director Alison Bailey, who spent hours with Keys as they installed the exhibit. “Venise told me, ‘Each time I put these up they tell a different story,’” said Dr. Bailey. “And, she’s right. There is no set template for each of her installations. She places the figures where they want to go, and the movement takes shape, as the installation progresses.”

Beyond affirming those with feminine-identifying bodies, Keys also aims to empower Illinois State University’s Black community with her work. “In African American folklore, African spiritualities did not disappear in this New World,” said Keys. “It thrives when we keep our oral traditions alive, dance with our hips, practice herbalism, grow food, perform domestic rituals, and study our history.”

Keys said the installation will grow over time as more cutouts of various sizes and paper will be added throughout the year. She has donated the artwork as a gift to WGSS as part of the permanent collection.

Find out more about WGSS at Illinois State.