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Sister co-founders put the ‘ISH’ in WOMANISH exhibit

Stepping onto the boldly printed tile floor, looking up to nothing but the iridescence of color and disco balls hanging above, one discovers 10 different rooms that each showcase a perspective from a woman’s point of view.

The entrance of the WOMANISH exhibit features disco balls and iridescent colors. | Gabrielle Russell

WOMANISH is not only a hands-on experience, it’s a space that collectively dedicates each area to specific stereotypes, while still being fun and artsy. 

For sisters Dionna Gray and Danyelle Gray, co-founders of WOMANISH, the intersectionality of being Black and women is at the heart of their exhibit. 

Dionna said the momentum of the #MeToo movement has sparked a greater movement to empower women and inspire them to “speak their truth.” However, she said because she and Danyelle are Black, it is an even bigger success being able to empower other women like themselves who are often overlooked.

The hands-on experience, worth 75 minutes for the visit, is located in a five-story building at 114 S. State St., right in the heart of downtown Chicago. WOMANISH is open to all guests with a ticket price of $35.  

After working on an app for women for about six years, the sisters began to put their minds to work elsewhere. 

“We were trying to create this safe space and collective for women online… and it literally went nowhere,” Danyelle said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we turn this app idea into an experience or an event because [this] experience [will spark] a wave [if not a movement].’” 

Danyelle said the response from previous events such as panels and smaller experiences, hosted by the Gray sisters, presented a whole new outlook on women and sparked a movement. 

The top floor of the exhibit features a photo opportunity worthy self-care salon. | Gabrielle Russell

The exhibit touches on many issues important to Black women, including woman’s emotions. This includes a room called MOODYISH, which focuses on mental health, as well as a room called GLOOMYISH and even a self-care salon called SELFISH. 

As guests enter the exhibit, a retro-themed diner with a neon sign reading ‘Delish’ greets them at the door. Huge cut-out symbols hang from above and bright colored artwork dresses the walls.

The top floor awaits guests at the end of a glittered staircase, with sheets of iridescent bliss making them wander into a mirrored maze and leading into a sassy neon multi-colored salon. 

“We wanted to do something that empowered women, it’s for everyone,” Dionna said. “You still get the very picturesque, very ‘Instagram-able’ moments, but they all have meaning.”

Each room may be equipped for a great photo opportunity, but there is a bigger picture behind the meaning of it. Outside each room is a plaque that explains the concept behind it and gives some information about the artist. 

Annie Sweeton, a freshman contemporary urban and popular music major said, “I think it was really beautifully made…[they] totally put a lot of time and thought into it.”

“They really encapsulated being a woman,” Sweeton added. “It was definitely the experience of the woman and not only one certain type of woman, but every type of woman…. so it was really cool.”

Each room features a plaque explaining the concept behind it as well as information about the artist. | Gabrielle Russell

The Gray sisters felt as though they had to create something that was not so typical—getting the message out to empower women. With that, they hope to continue to inspire other people to at least reach for their dreams.

Investing in the Black community, the sisters partnered with a Black staffing agency, as well as exhibited artwork by Black artists. But Black representation and women representation are only the beginning. 

“I think that this generation is more accepting of women because as a generation we are more accepting of everything,” Dionna said. “It’s still not an equal representation across the board. So, I think we still have a long way to go.”

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 31, 2021 at 114 S. State St., has ticket information available on its website.

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