UNCG Magazine

Paint it loud, with Essence Foster

Near the Lewis St. corner, Essence Foster has completed her work, an image of a woman created with charcoal, spray paint, and a collage of magazine clippings. Through a mask, Essence speaks with the other artists, as dusk approaches.

Essence, who already holds a bachelor’s degree, is on the pre-med track at UNCG. With an inner need to help people and a sweet spot for children, she plans to be a pediatrician.

This past summer, though, her empathy and connectedness led her to Elm St., paintbrush in tow.

“Social media turned [BLM] into a competition. It was like, if you weren’t posting, you were part of the problem,” Essence points out.

“And I take everything personal … but I wanted to say something that was bigger than a couple of likes.”

So when she got the call from Phillip Marsh to consider helping create art on Elm St. in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests on Elm Street and vandalism, it seemed to be divine intervention.

“I just wanted to scream as loud as I could on this project.”

And she did.

She vented her frustration through her artwork, which she fittingly named “State of Emergency.” With the pain of the Black community racing through her mind, she beat her mural with charcoal, burnt it with a blowtorch, threw things at it, and pummeled it with her shoe.

Speaking out through art is not new to Essence. As she majored in painting at East Carolina University, she used her senior project to share her perception that the “White expectations” of the curriculum were stifling to Black artists. And she earned praise for it.

It’s important to speak up, when something is wrong, she believes. There are many ways to do it. Art is one.

“Find what works for you.”

By Brittany Cameron
Top photograph by Martin W. Kane, second photograph courtesy Essence Foster


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