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Photographer Studies Minority Women in Corporate Environments

Photographer Endia Bea employs photography and video to explore the experiences of minority women working in corporate settings. (Credit: David Rolfe.)

Endia Beal, 29, is a Winston-Salem artist who gives voice to those who are marginalized or unseen, creating universal dialogue about issues of race and gender, or what Beal says it is like to be the “other.”

With photography and video, Beal explores the relationships of minority women in corporate environments, based on their personal experiences.

While completing her master’s degree in photography at Yale University, Beal was inspired to explore generation and race gaps in the workplace. As a student worker from 2011-13 in Yale’s IT department, Beal’s co-workers were curious about her Afro and wanted to touch it. “The conversation was happening about me but I wasn’t included in the dialogue,” Beal said.

Beal currently works as strategic planner for Mullen Advertising in Winston-Salem.

Beal developed the “Can I Touch It?” series in 2013 while she was a resident at the Center for Photography in Woodstock, N.Y.

In the series, Beal restyled middle-aged corporate white women with black hairstyles. Beal and her series have been featured in Slate, Marie Clare South Africa and other publications.

Beal’s art is currently showing with six other contemporary artists at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte. It’s part of “I SEE YOU: The Politics of Being,” which explores how women of the African Diaspora are seen.

Q: What do you think are the challenges of women in corporate settings?

Answer: There are certain ideas of what professional is supposed to look like. Is your hair in a bun or straight? I think minority women conform to that look to gain opportunities. In my personal experiences, I found when I did conform I had to ask myself: “What are the variables? Is it because I’m not qualified or because of how I look?” So I went on interviews with different hairstyles. When I wore my hair in an Afro I didn’t get opportunities and when I wore my hair in the corporate look I would get call backs.

Q: People who have influenced your photography include Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson. In Simpson’s work, she doesn’t necessarily show the faces of her subjects. Mae Weems seems to have an anthropological take on her subjects. Do you find yourself inspired by similar perspectives?

Answer: We think about anthropology and experimenting and testing and that’s what this work is doing. You take someone out of the context they are used to. You transform them into the other for a moment. They begin to feel out of place and to feel judged by their peers, things they’ve never had to think about before. But as a minority woman you think about that all the time.

Q: As their hair was styled, what transformations did you witness in the women who participated in the “Can I Touch It?” series?

Answer: It’s like just getting a new look. It’s a change. It was about the dialogue. So the women opened up and talked about their own experiences of being judged. One woman shared that she was told to change her name from Desiree to Ann because the name was too exotic. Ann knew if she didn’t change her name she wouldn’t fit the corporate look. It’s eye-opening to have these white women relate to what a minority woman in her 20s experiences.

Q: What questions do you ask yourself when developing a new body of work?

Answer: If it’s not making me uncomfortable, then why am I making it? Talking about the things that people are afraid to discuss. Finding that things that are specific to me can be universal to others. I think about how I can talk about the larger context because I know I’m not the only one going through this.

Q: What is your new series “Fit In” about?

Answer: The series deals with when you leave school and you are trying to fit into a new corporate space. I’m creating a backdrop that juxtaposes women in their workspace and with the intimate space of their home. The idea is that you are your professional self when at work and you are in transition to your home life. Then, there is that moment of uncertainty in between.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in your work?

Answer: Being able to overcome my own preconceived notions of the other. In photographing those women, I knew they were not going to be able to relate to me. I found I was wrong, that not only did these women relate to me but they had their own experiences of being judged. The more I question my own judgment and take risks I discover something new about myself, something new within the work, and hopefully I am helping the audience discover something.

Learn more about Endia Beal at her website.

Article by author originally published in W-S Journal on 02.19.2014.

Published inArtContemporary Art Interviews


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