Inside her studio, Lisa Myers Bulmash shows off one of her latest pieces: “St. Felicia, Patron Saint of Goodbyes.” While not officially canonized by the Catholic Church, the phrase that inspired Bulmash to create her is ever-present in pop culture — “Bye, Felicia.” Complete with a halo while holding a shield emblazoned with a golden boot, St. Felicia is the defender of personal space. Hands surround her angelic figure, and at a quick glance she could be mistaken for a traditional saint one could find in a European cathedral.
"St. Felicia" is one of the more lighthearted works Bulmash has crafted. She makes assemblages, collages and altered books. Her love of 19th-century illustrations, things that are distressed and older images of people, particularly those of color, inform her creations. Because of her writing background she often utilizes text.
“I think what drew me to collage was the clash of different textures and visuals and also the fact that I did not have to have incredible drawing skills. I could use this image, I could use this shape to convey what I was trying to get across,” Bulmash said. “I found it easier to express myself with collage, because collage quite often relies heavily on narrative. I really get into a piece if I am telling some sort of story rather than just putting an image up or a series of images up.”
In the piece, “The Blacks, They See Racism in Everything,” Bulmash combines a newer image of honey bottles with one of slaves tied together. The artist said she saw the honey bears held together by plastic rings in a warehouse store and it reminded her of a chain gang. Initially Bulmash thought her mind was being overactive but it stayed with her. While looking through public images in the British Library Flikr account, she found the slaves and made the connection.
“I really wanted to pair those two images not necessarily because of the time I was thinking about slavery but because I was thinking about how that image sort of — one image is so old and yet we’re in the 21st century and there’s a different version of it that has nothing to do with the original,” Bulmash said. “It’s sort of like a cultural echo, and that fascinated me and disturbed me. I know that the packagers of these little honey bears are not thinking about this, but I do.”
“One Nation, Under Construction,” is another collage using older and present-day images. The phrase “There’s No North or South Today” is intentionally askew. In the center is an image of slaves linked together with White men carrying spears in the front and the back of the line. They are moving next to a fence and sign for “Jefferson Davis Park.” A Confederate flag is beside Davis’ photo. After the South seceded, he served as their president. The park is located in Ridgefield, Washington, and isn’t some relic from decades ago. It was established in 2007 and is visible from Interstate 5. Bulmash points out you can’t have slaves without slave masters. The Pacific Northwest proudly touts itself as liberal, yet this park exists.
If Bulmash’s name or face look familiar, it might be because being an artist is a second act of sorts. Bulmash has a bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA and worked as a reporter. She moved to the Seattle area from California for a job at television station Q13 as they were just starting to produce news. Later she moved onto Northwest Cable News. She left the business, and while planning her wedding, Bulmash took an art stamping class. Going on a couple mixed-media arts retreats solidified her love for the medium. In 2014 she completed Artist Trust’s EDGE Professional Development Program for Visual Artists. She used the life-changing experience as a springboard to treat her practice like an office job and became a full-time artist. Since 2010, she has participated in a number of group exhibitions, solo shows and won awards.
Bulmash has two upcoming shows. In September and October her work will be on display at the City of Kent Centennial Center Gallery. Her first solo museum show opens at the Northwest African-American Museum (NAAM) in November. The exhibition — titled “You’re Not From Around Here Are You?” — is an exploration of how race is often tied to place. She’s experienced different reactions to places she’s called home throughout the years. In Seattle, there’s a narrative specific to each neighborhood.
“You can read the emotional tone when people react to where you say you’re from,” Bulmash said. “There’s a world of associations and assumptions that come along with that especially if you’re a person of color. All sorts of associations that may have nothing to do with reality.”
When asked if there’s a message in her work, Bulmash stresses the importance of recognizing each other’s humanity. The stakes are high for the mother of two sons. Her oldest is 12 years old, and getting taller by the day. Like all Black mothers, she’s concerned for his safety in an America where people often jump to conclusions about Black men and boys. The consequences can be deadly.
“Anybody who looks him in the face is not going to mistake him for a 17-year-old or a 20-year-old,” Bulmash said. “But every day I have at least one thought that I have to squash where I’m worried that somebody will miss my child’s humanity, and he will get hurt because of it.”
As one of Bulmash’s friends puts it, her work is “content-rich.” She creates multilayered works that are meant to be slowly taken in and pondered. It’s even better if they help expand your worldview.
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge, Facebook
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