On my Facebook feed, I recently came across the work of an emerging artist named Armisey Smith who has taken on a uniquely challenging  COVID inspired art project and to my delight accepted to be part of my blog’s  Spotlight Artists Series #2. 

Armisey Smith, Artist

We agreed to meet at Studio Monclair Inc, in New Jersey, a nonprofit artist membership organization that promotes culture and education in the visual arts and where she presently works and has exhibited.

Armisey is an African American woman artist in her late 40’s who grew up in the Breukelen Public Housing project in Brooklyn, NY, living in the city throughout her college years before crossing the tunnel to New Jersey, residing both for a time in Jersey City and later in the City of Newark.

As a young child, Armisey’s parents, specifically her mom, a self-taught artist, awakened in her a love and passion for drawing and painting.  In a loving home, full of books, music, and art with visits to the museum and the library inspires a young Armisey to excel in her art classes. Although she considered becoming a doctor, tackling chemistry did not seem as attractive as pursuing an art career.  Once enrolled at New York Parsons School of Design, Armisey was faced with the dilemma and the pressures back home familiar to so many minority and women students on how to make a decent living in the arts.  Studying to become an illustrator was her choice response, which offered some new experiences teaching and working with youth while enrolling at New York Pratt Institute in pursuit of an MFA in Arts and Cultural Management.

 Surviving and Thriving COVID

Moving to Jersey City was complicated and painful.  As the second oldest child of 5 whose father died at the age of 15,  Armisey became an essential caretaker to her mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The recovery from the loss of a mom, starting over, finishing school, and moving on with her life is how she arrived in Newark in search of work and a new beginning.

In Newark, she connected with a burgeoning African American artistic community gaining new friends who also became mentors. In this city, she managed to find work broadening her skills as an arts administrator, curator, and teacher, gradually finding her way back to painting again.

When I first came across  Armisey’s recent COVID inspíred series entitled “ Side Eye, Pink Eye,” I was intrigued, and immediately connected emotionally with the pain that she was able to dramatize in the faces of these women.  Clearly, her intent was to make it known the pain and suffering Black women and People of Color endure as being the most vulnerable to the spread of COVID and the pounding years of racism and oppression they and their loved ones continuously experience.

I recalled early on how the media reported Pink Eye as being a symptom of COVID-19.  Armisey was able to capture the cause of Pink Eye (a bacterial or viral infection) to drive the point of how we, as a society, through both apathy and selfishness, refuse to protect our most vulnerable population allowing for the spread of this virus to destroy lives.

Black women are fundamental to the wellbeing of their families and the communities they live in.  They contribute enormously to the nation’s political process, the workforce, and community building yet are disempowered, marginalized, and devalued.  Armisey, through her portraits, captures the essence of that exhausting struggle using both dark and bright strokes of paints to accentuate and amplify their facial features engaging the viewers in seeing the suffering, the disappointment, and a cry for change. Powerful yet a haunting message of what is to come as we meander through this pandemic, a declining economy, and the fight against systemic racism.

A unique feature about this provocative art series of over 20 portraits is how it organically became a collaborative community project where Armisey asked her friends and colleagues if they would send her a selfie. Photos came pouring in as she began to share her portraits, creating a new sisterhood of community preservation.  The penetrating message divulged in the eyes of these women became a way to share the pain, heal, and engage others to care.

There are so many strengths in Armisey’s passion for her artistry, as she alone has taken on this project with no financial support available to well-established artists. This project gave her a purpose and an opportunity to have a voice expressing her sadness and pain over the growing police brutality, the death of friends, the isolation, anxiety, and depression that the pandemic is causing.   Each portrait has a story, and the titles are chosen by owners of the photos, another empowering yet nurturing way to connect art to daily living.

Armisey’s cooperative spirit, portraiture approach, and storytelling is still evolving as there is so much that she can do with this inspired project that all communities can benefit from in understanding the struggles of women of color as they survive and thrive in a society that devalues them.

The photos on my blog do not represent all of Armisey’s work. If you like to see more of her work or are interested in connecting with her, she can be reached at

                                                      Click the center of the photo to see the full view

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