“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

Toni Morrison

Over the past few months, works of art have given us a collective new language to leverage about life and our “new normal.” Artists are in creative overdrive, constantly educating and illuminating the injustice around our world in the midst of a global pandemic and a social justice reckoning. If you log onto any social media platform, you’re inundated with the audio, video and digital creations designed to move our collective consciousness toward a deeper understanding of the complex world we live in. Ms. Morrison had seen that shift before; she witnessed art and creativity is a prime way to channel energy during a complicated moment, to move any emotion into action. In a time of uncertainty and high tensions, art propels us all forward.

For Brianna Ellis-Mitchell, her art has been a way to move her energy into catalyzing something good and beneficial for the world. Her portraits have a way of capturing the person’s essence in how they’re truly seen by the world, disregarding any self-judgment or critical eyes. Expressive and emotive, Brianna’s work plays with color and light in a way that reflects the truest, most honest conversation about the work and the broader context of this current moment in time.

Despite the complex global health situation and economic uncertainty, there was no better time for Brianna to go out on her own as an artist than the spring of 2020. With a wealth of experience at the storytelling powerhouses of Hello Sunshine and Shondaland, she began ramping up her art portfolio with specific portrait pieces. She’s inspired to create things that speak to [her] and for people that [she] loves and respects” by painstakingly focusing on the details – the curl of a hair, the smirk of a lip line. Anything that brings the personality of her subject in focus. Her current work, Body, focuses on the expanse and intimate detail of Black women’s bodies and spirit, speaking to shining a light on their beauty and power.

The distinct combination of laser focus on detail and a way to foster healing inspired her to create the Say Her Name series in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of Louisville, KY police. I’ll let her share how it came about in her own words:


When I did the portrait of Breonna Taylor I was at a point where I was feeling numb. I couldn’t articulate how I was feeling, the words wouldn’t form. So I did what I do best, I turned to my art. It became my secondary therapy in a way. It allowed me to connect with these beautiful women. Capture their essence and then be able to share that with the world. This was truly a time for me to take a moment of feeling like nothing and try to create something to honor these women who faced death and/or injustice for being black, beautiful, dynamic, colorful, and full of potential.

While I didn’t create these for anyone else, the message is simple: Breonna Taylor, Iyanna Dior, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Oluwatoyin Salau, Rain Milton, Dominique Fells’ lives mattered. Every last one of them. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and even after that. Period.

This captivating work was truly art in action in a way that Brianna may not have imagined. The series helped Brianna process the moment in her own terms. Her designs also spread around social media like wildfire. Her portrait of Breonna Taylor was featured by Oprah Magazine, Shondaland and HelloSunshine, just to name a few.

There’s no doubt that Brianna is driven and passionate about her work. “If you have a passion for something, that should be your main driving force no matter what someone else says,” says Brianna. And when the world feels in flux and dark at times, Brianna’s work helps give us a better understanding, to truly see a new perspective and rise to the call for action. It encapsulates what Ms. Morrison meant in helping civilizations heal.

Author’s note: I’m honored to have worked with Brianna for corporate visual storytelling projects through our mutual friend Gina Mei in highlighting 5 Black Women and Nonbinary Femmes making history, Netflix showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellet and actress, writer, producer, entrepreneur and activist Erica Alexander. When thinking through a redesign for my portraits and website, she was my first call – you can see her work here on my homepage. To see more of Brianna’s art and to work with her, visit https://briannamitchelldesign.com/.

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