You might not think of bright colors and geometric shapes as deeply intimate, but they tell viewers a lot about Adrienne Gaither. The 30-year-old D.C. artist based the abstract paintings in “How I Got Over,” a new exhibit at Transformer, on her recovery from trauma. By experimenting with global inspirations, including West African craft traditions, and shapes that are new to her work, Gaither explores themes of rebuilding trust in your body and finding people who love and support you. The Howard University graduate (who will give an artist talk at the gallery on Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.) has exhibited widely, including at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn, but “How I Got Over” marks her first solo show in D.C.
There’s stigma around the topic of trauma. What do you want your works to open people up to?
I want to talk about a process of healing within the trauma. I want to normalize the conversation. We [all] have relationships with folks who have experienced traumas that we don’t know about, because there never seems to be an appropriate time to bring it up. I think traumas can be a catalyst to a new beginning — one of the biggest traumas in my life was the catalyst to me pursuing art as my career. Trauma is a part of our human experience, so there’s resilience that all of us have.
We tend to talk about trauma as coming from severe violence. How well does that reflect people’s experiences?
Trauma is not always physical. It can be psychological — it comes in so many different forms. But the feelings of guilt or isolation are something people have to deal with. Then there’s a moment of reconciliation where you do find yourself able to move on.
In this show, you deliberately worked with shapes that were less typical for you. How did that relate to grappling with painful experiences?
My work is usually very square — rectangular, grids. I challenged myself to introduce more triangular shapes, more jagged edges. I picked shapes and colors that reflected how I felt in those moments. Nothing was easy about them, because I had to revisit things.
Nothing “looks traumatic.” That’s the thing — people conceal things all the time. This show is also about those adjustments and the adaptation that has to occur. The images are just a metaphor, anyway.
You’ve talked about how you push back against the popularity of images of “socialized black trauma as art.” Why is making abstract work important to you?
There are so many really dope black abstract painters that exist, and they’ve been carved out of history because it’s not what the majority wants to see. I don’t think that’s fair. It perpetuates a single story; it pigeonholes black artists. White men aren’t the only guys who are good at painting some squares. So let us shine. I want to challenge that ideology about what black art is and who gets to say what it is.
I don’t know who’s behind me, but I want to open the door to them and say, “You can do this.” Abstract art can be very conceptual and heady, and if I have the intellect, why can’t I show that?
Transformer, 1404 P St. NW; through Feb. 24, free.
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