By Chuck Wasserstrom
The walls in her studio are adorned with paintings of family, friends and self-portraits of her own experiences in life.
It’s the life Tamia Spinks knows and the only one she can identify with.
“Whether I use my family, friends or myself as the subject, my work explores my identity, my perception of life, and what it is like to be Black in America,” she wrote in her artist statement, “I use the word ‘Black’ very loosely for the simple fact that though I am a Black woman, I cannot speak for all Black women or Black Americans in general. My life as a Black American is different than another.”
Spinks is a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. She hones her craft in a studio located just behind Patten House, which sits across Palmetto Street from the Fine Arts Center.
“My practice is focused on the beauty and aspects of Black life, showing people in a positive light versus the stereotypical lifestyle–like gang affiliations, drugs, no father figure–that you see in the media. I didn’t grow up that way, so it was very hard for me to relate to that,” she said.
Spinks grew up in the small West Tennessee town of Milan, located just north of Jackson. Sports, particularly football, are popular in Milan, she said, and art is underappreciated. It was art that spoke to her, though. It was soothing. It captivated and inspired her.
“I have dealt with social anxiety, and art was just my way of coping,” she said. “It’s how I relaxed and expressed myself when I was overwhelmed with social experiences like big events or settings.”
In her hometown, art isn’t considered a way to make a living. But after beginning her academic career as a criminal justice major at Jackson State Community College, Spinks decided it was time to prove those people wrong.
“Even though I had an interest in criminal justice, it’s not what I was excited about. Art was what I was passionate about,” she said.
With her parents’ encouragement, she finished off her Gen Ed requirements at Jackson State before transferring to UTC to pursue her passion.
“I had heard great things about Chattanooga,” she said. “My uncle (Nicchaeus Doaks) went there to play basketball. This other girl that I knew went to school there. And I knew the art scene here is appreciated. That’s what really drove me to come here.”
Spinks plans to be a role model to inspire others and show the naysayers in small towns like Milan that art is more than a hobby.
“I want to go back to my town and be that example for younger students and people my age that just don’t have that support,” she said. “There are a lot of African American contemporary artists out there and they are very successful.”