Vashti Dubois has spent a majority of her career in theater and the arts exploring and documenting the diverse experiences of people of color, especially those of women.
Using art to create a safe place in which black women can be free to be their authentic self has always been Dubois' ethos and now the chief objective behind The Colored Girls Museum she founded in Philadelphia.
"The ordinary colored girl's story is everybody’s story and nobody wants to look at it. That is the irony. We don’t all have to be Michelle Obama or Beyoncé. We celebrate us just the way we are and that is good enough. Your ordinary is everything."
The Colored Girls Museum's singularity doesn’t end with its subject matter.
The Germantown museum is also unconventionally housed in Dubois' own 127-year-old Victorian home. The Brooklyn-native has re-imagined the stuffy and cold museum blueprint into a more intimate and organic venue inside the house she shares with her 18-year-old son.
"We are a community museum sitting in an ordinary black working-class neighborhood."
The three-story house is full of relics, treasures and objects that speak on the many layers of the colored girl’s broad world exhibited beside Dubois' personal items, which naturally serve the role of colored girl artifacts.
"Even the ritual of preparing the space for tours is in some ways a performance of my own identity as a colored girl."
From brightly colored quilts, oil paintings, dolls, a memorial to the four black girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, to ceramic installations and a cloud of notes hanging from the ceiling representing the hopes and dreams of the colored girl, The Colored Girls Museum is a visual testament to the colored girl, old and young.
"We assign pairs of artists to curate the eight spaces in the house.
They are to invite two to five ordinary colored girls to submit objects that are significant to the experience of being a colored girl."
The only permanent exhibit – the history of washerwomen – housed on the second floor honors the domestic worker's contributions to the black family. A clothesline, a small iron and ironing board, sewing machine and black and white photographs fill the room.
"The washerwoman played an important part of the colored girl story. Although people talk about the importance of washerwomen in our history, not enough real attention is paid to how they were the economic foundation of black communities."
Books written by colored girls, such as Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston, are found in every corner of the house. Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf makes an appearance. It was Shange's black feminist chore poem that inspired Dubois to birth a sanctuary for everyday black women and girls.
"We are so often defined by our trauma. This is a place where colored girls can see all parts of themselves reflected back to them.
When the artists and ordinary colored girls bring their work into the space, it's like receiving a blessing over and over again."
To learn more about The Colored Girls Museum, visit its website.