Art Scene – Onnissia
Twenty-seven-year-old Onnissia (pronounced oh nee see yuh), born in South Central Los Angeles, became interested in art when she was seven years old. “I was told by everyone that I couldn’t make any money creating art,” she said.
She attended high school near Palm Springs, California, where a teacher stoked her creative flame. Her mother, who is a nurse, and her sister, who just had a baby, both live in Orange County, California. She graduated from the University of Arkansas, where she studied communications. Onnissia briefly moved to Texas where she befriended someone whose family had connections in Kansas City. “I was told that Kansas City had a rich arts and cultural scene, which is so true. I am thankful to be a part of it.”
On her 25th birthday, Onnissia decided she wanted to recommit herself to her art and her writing. “I worked for the ACLU, having people sign petitions on street corners and was doing legal work for a family law firm and for a corporation. But I started to realize that it was my art that truly feeds my spirit.” While working at the now-shuttered Nomads, which served coffee and cocktails, she happened to run into Emily Smalter in March of 2019, who was opening up an art gallery next door on 39th Street. “We started talking, and I told her I was an artist. Of course she wanted to see it and she immediately loved it. When she had an exhibit of my work, every one of my pieces sold out within a week. It was just kismet, and Smalter Gallery has been very supportive of my work.”
According to Onnissia’s website, her work consists of “bold silhouettes using acrylics with cut outs or canvas to create conversations about identity, self-love, intimacy, sexuality, and healing.” Said Onnissia: “If anyone came to my home, they would see everything I own is very streamlined, which is the same as my art. My work tends to be straightforward, clean, bright, and crisp. Recently, I saw inspiration in a tape pattern wrapped around bicycle handlebars. I see beauty all around.” Onnissia was mentioned in the May 2020 ADF Web Magazine article entitled, “Four Up and Coming Kansas City Artists You Should Know,” and she was a Top 10 Semi-Finalist for a Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Award.
Like many others, Onnissia lost her jobs after the outbreak of COVID-19, which has given her an opportunity to focus full time on her art. During this interview, the country was also in upheaval over the murder of George Floyd by Police Officer Derek Chauvin. “I’ve been talking about race and identity politics since I was 14-years-old,” said Onnissia. “I’ve been thinking about it for a very long time. To me, this conversation isn’t new. As a result, people have been reaching out to me. I created an homage to commemorate the deaths of Michael Brown, Jr. and Trayvon Martin called, We Are Not A Threat, to express the black community’s overall frustration.”
Onnissia hopes that in the future Kansas City will exhibit and promote more art created by African Americans. “The black culture is unique, and it is a part of our art scene. It needs to supported and celebrated.”
Also featured in the July 11, 2020 issue of The Independent
By Ann Slegman
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