GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo-based artist Maya James told News 8 she “wanted to do something meaningful that represented the stories of women of color who go missing or are murdered.”
So she created an installation for ArtPrize 2023, which she called “No More Stolen Sistas.”
James was influenced by a movement known as No More Stolen Sisters, which pushes for justice for Indigenous and Native American women who have gone missing or been murdered.
She told News 8 that while she drew inspiration from the original No More Stolen Sisters movement, she knew those particular stories weren’t hers to tell — but others were. “No More Stolen Sistas” focuses on Black women who went missing or were killed.
“When I think of Black women, we call each other sistas,” James said. “And I was inspired by No More Stolen Sisters, and turning that into sistas with an A … to basically represent our special place in that movement.”
The installation — which James described as “a whole environment of art” — can be found at Zabhaz, a vintage store located on South Division.
“I created, basically, a living altar space to a bunch of missing and murdered women of color that is just to honor them,” James said. “And the fact that they don’t get as much justice as non-marginalized people when it comes to being pursued, found and represented.”
The artist said the women portrayed come from different backgrounds, but they all tie into an “overarching theme.”
“When it comes to the unjust deaths or the unjust disappearances of women of color, they’re often not given the same treatment,” she explained.
“No More Stolen Sistas” includes depictions of women like Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Grand Rapids native who was shot by police in Kentucky in 2020; and Oluwatoyin Salau, a 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist from Florida who was murdered in 2020.
“I included these large mural banners that have an acrostic poem of each of the names of the women,” James said.
Taylor’s acrostic reads: “Beauty Rested, they broke and Entered, killed her On her bed Never to be Near to us Again.”
James said the installation also includes “a little altar space where people can leave offerings for the people who are depicted” and various other interactive elements, like ribbon braids.
“(Hair) is a bonding moment for women of color, but it’s also a representation of our very special place on this earth,” she said. “I also see a lot of braids and just hair extensions sometimes, and I wonder, what if? … When you see somebody’s hair and they’re not there, it kind of is representative of all of the women of color who go missing and aren’t looked for.”
But with “No More Stolen Sistas,” the artist told News 8 she did not want to focus solely on the women’s deaths.
“When I do art about people post-mortem … I like to include information about how they lived as well as how they died,” she explained. “Because I don’t want it to just be fixated on the tragic part, even though that’s a really important piece that needs to be represented. I want to also represent the things about their lives.”
Ultimately, James told News 8 her goal is to highlight the humanity of these women by showing their faces.
“I want to put faces to the names. We always say, ‘Say their names, say their names,'” the artist said. “But I wanted to give a face to a name, because it’s really hard to dehumanize a person when you see their face.”