InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Washington, DC-based artist Rachel Crouch.
ELIXHER: Tell us about yourself.
RACHEL: I was born and raised in Chicago. My twin sister and I started drawing in the first grade. Before we went to high school, our mom put us in art classes in middle school. We use to paint little dumb things here and there for people and then entered competitions. Our artwork was hung in museums in Chicago when we were in high school. We both went to Howard University and majored in math. We both became math teachers and started painting again. Now we do both. My sister is a principal and I’m an assistant principal.
ELIXHER: So your lives are very parallel.
RACHEL: Yeah, we’re literally identical.
ELIXHER: Your work is similar, but very different. I’ve noticed from the both of you themes of celebration in the Black experience and some empowering pieces. I actually knew your art before I knew either of your name. I am most familiar with your piece Miss Pursuit of Happiness II. What would you say influences your work?
RACHEL: For Miss Pursuit of Happiness, it was everyday life. I used to be a shopaholic and those were all my tags. I did three of those and Miss Pursuit was a play on words. Instead of the pursuit of happiness, it’s the miss-pursuit of happiness. You buy all this dumb shit and you don’t need it. You buy it for all the wrong reasons. For everything else, it’ll be a song, a conversation I’ve had with my friends, in the car listening to Talib Kweli and something will come to me. Actually, we named the show we’re doing in two weeks after a Talib Kweli song. I have to feel it. If I don’t feel it, I don’t paint. Which is a problem, because I will go three months without painting. Then paint again and go another three months without painting.
ELIXHER: I was going to ask if you ever suffer from artist’s block and how do you work through it.
RACHEL: Oh my god, yes. To get out of it I’ll listen to music. Or I’ll get out of it if my sister is constantly working, it’ll motivate me. Another thing is constantly having shows and being busy. I have to paint.
ELIXHER: What medium do you enjoy most to create in?
RACHEL: I would say charcoal and acrylic. I least enjoy oil because it takes forever to dry. I like charcoal because I like black and white drawings. I’m good with faces. I like to spend my time drawing faces with charcoal. I like acrylic because it dries fast. You’re able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.
ELIXHER: I imagine art played a major part in your upbringing. With the disappearance of music and arts in schools, how would you say this affects today’s youth? How do you think we can integrate art back into the curriculum?
RACHEL: I think youth are losing creativity. I know in schools you’ll find that one kid in the corner doing graffiti in middle school, and in high school if you don’t have an art or music class for kids you start stifling them. There are kids with abilities we will never know of because there was no one there to bring it out or they weren’t exposed to what they needed to be exposed to tap into that talent. I think just as how people are integrating reading and writing into everything, you could do that with art and music.
ELIXHER: Being art owners, could you talk about the importance of art collecting as an investment?
RACHEL: My sister and I do collect art, her more so than me. We collect art from African American artists. Every time I see a young, hot artist I make sure I get a painting or two paintings. We have a lot of Charly Palmer prints, but I like to buy the originals from young artists.
ELIXHER: I see the two of you have an event coming up on Saturday, June 15 called Identity Crisis with a few other artists. The descriptions says it’s a collection of artists using art to tell untold stories and open unfinished conversations. Could you tell us more about what will happen there?
RACHEL: It’s six artists. My sister and I are hosting it, but we’re also in it. We invited our friends. It’s going to be in DC. In this huge, 3,000-foot unfinished storefront. We have about 500 RSVPs so far. The goal is to do it big so that it becomes a yearly event. It becomes something people are waiting for and making sure they get tickets for.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
RACHEL: I think my experience at Howard is what makes me proud to be a part of the Black queer community. I know my freshmen year and my sophomore year I was in the closet. I used to dress “like a girl” because I wanted to pledge and once I pledged I kinda just came out. Coming out was very difficult for me because my prophytes weren’t having it. They didn’t agree with it. They thought I should’ve kept my ass in the closet. That went on for about a year. When my sister crossed, there were more gay people on her line. More and more gay people started to come into our chapter. We were also coming out on campus as well. I think my experience was unique because I was Greek. I was able to get the best of both worlds. I hung out with straight people. I hung with gay people. So I never felt singled out. They eventually got over it. Other than that, I’ve never felt singled out because of my sexuality.
ELIXHER: What kind of healthy critique do you have about our community? What are some areas for growth?
RACHEL: I think we need to raise our expectations. Like I said, I hang with straight people. I hang out with gay people. I hang out with my line sisters. I hang out with everybody. The straight and gay communities are completely different. Our expectations are low in the lesbian community. For example, the way [straight women] carry themselves is a little more kempt. And that is a sweeping generalization, I know! As lesbians, I feel like we need to raise our expectations and demand more. If that makes sense.
ELIXHER: So what’s next for the Crouch sisters?
RACHEL: We would love to, in the very near future, open our own gallery/event space. Both of us still want to stay in education, even though I hate working from 9-5. I hate that 9-5 life, but I love kids. We’re going to grow in that area, too. Possibly move out of the schools soon to do central office work. You know, work at a higher level. It’s the best of both worlds. We both love education. We both love art. We’re trying to grow both of those at the same time.
– Interview by Tia N. Williams
Tia N. Williams is the woman behind The Buddha In Me, an agency of artists, speakers, poets, and activists based in Atlanta. The Buddha In Me specializes in providing quality programs to educate, enlighten, and entertain. Tia recently received her M.Ed. from the University of Georgia in College Student Affairs Administration.