When the summer season began this year, the summer feeling was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, I needed my summer internship fix to imitate some semblance of normalcy during a steadily worsening year. Enter Future Dead Artists. On a harmless search for art spaces around my new neighborhood of Venetian Hills, I stumbled upon FDA. Fast forward and FDA’s creator, EuGene Byrd speaks to me on the phone about how he actualized an idea to nurture and support art in Atlanta’s Black community through the birth of a collective destined to be future dead artists. His earnest nature and zealous message about Atlanta and the vision he has for its Black artist community solidified my admiration for this in-town art cooperative. My task, at the conclusion of our conversation—give limelight to the underrepresented women providing artists their content. Amplify the voices of the muses.
Despite my using Zoom more times than I’ve taken a deep breath in the past few months, I still struggled to connect with Nandi on my phone. When her image does appear on my screen, she instantly greets me with a smile. I immediately recognize her face which I have viewed on my Instagram feed for over a week. I also recognize her patio which has made many appearances in her posts in which she exemplifies serenity through languid movements of her body. I feel sheepish for noticing all of these minute details about Nandi when this marks our first time meeting. However, as Nandi and I begin to talk, I imagine all the ways that even as acquaintances, we are also inherently connected.
Nandi informs me that she respects the art of dance and regularly practices. Her relationship with dance initiated innocently enough in her formative years. As an adult, Nandi credits her lifelong devotion to dance as the foundation for her self-confidence. Consistently facing her body in ceiling-to-floor mirrors during dance class encouraged the dancer to observe both the appealing and unappealing aspects of her body to eventually cease categorizing them at all. Nandi is a “firm believer in changing what [she] can and accepting what [she] cannot." She supports a movement in which internalized shame about our bodies may walk free and express itself to steer younger generations like her sisters’ away from the agonizing years of Tumblr-brand self-esteem issues.
Nandi met EuGene spontaneously at an art event in Atlanta several years ago. Their meeting took place not long after Nandi had returned from abroad in Spain where she had a mentor, coincidentally, named Eugene. At an Artlanta function, EuGene and Nandi simply struck up a conversation and Nandi agreed to partake in EuGene’s start-up art space as a model for some figure drawing classes. Working as a muse didn’t come until afterward when “artists started to request diversity in their figures,” Nandi says. Unfortunately, the job of modeling for figure-drawing proved to be male-dominant and therefore uncomfortable to continue. Artists’ brisk business attitudes in Atlanta pushed Nandi out of the city and state to the upper midwest to return to family. She currently resides in Minnesota, which she describes as “diverse and financially supportive towards artists."
Nandi humbly sites Deyanna Deynse as her mentor during those first few months of entering the musing world. Nandi tells me, “Deyanna really illuminated me on all the things." However, Nandi quickly noticed certain faults in Atlanta’s artist community’s operation including but not limited to: regular risks in public spaces per the requests of artists, no set contracts between artists and muses, and way too many requests to model streetwear. In the same way, a lot of our society’s creative spaces are unjustly lead by toxic, entitled individuals, Nandi mentions feelings of unwanted sexualization and romanticization in front of the camera. The muse would have preferred “zero romance and a more educational, supportive space."
Nandi is a “firm believer in changing what [she] can and accepting what [she] cannot." She supports a movement in which internalized shame about our bodies may walk free and express itself to steer younger generations.
Additionally, Nandi reveals that she hasn’t necessarily liked everything produced with her image and feels frustrated about artists' occasional misinterpretations of her body. These rare instances of lawless artistic license have left Nandi desperate for more control as a muse and, “by extension,” she says, “an artist [herself]." Despite the downsides she recalls from her time in Atlanta as a muse, “I learned a lot about emotions through musing,” Nandi says, “and how to appreciate the way a body can be manipulated."
Deyanna defines being a muse as a “reference point for art like sculptures, paintings, and more." During her beginnings as a muse, the word stumped her. She recalls hearing the word used to describe her work and searching for the dictionary definition. “I read the definition and finally understood the link between what I was doing and the word,” Deyanna tells me. Deyanna “feels powerful as a muse [being] immortalized after death in people’s houses and museums." Artist Kevin Williams’ praise for Deyanna early in her art modeling journey remains a valuable reminder of the scarcity of Black female muses and thus all Black female muses’ power within the art community. Even more so now, she identifies with the term and finds it much more meaningful than ‘model’. “A runway model,” she says, “could be a muse, however, a muse utilizes a different range of emotions and mental facilities to get the job done." To my surprise, Deanna describes her mentality during posing to be peaceful and meditative. Instead of concerning herself with her appearance while musing, she opens up to artists to fulfill their vision and expects artists to reciprocate that openness by fostering a rapport.
Deyanna Deynse began musing following her greatest depressive episode yet. Suffering from not only neurosis but also homelessness, the muse decided to visit Craigslist in search of artistic work. A post calling for muses garnered Deyanna’s attention and the positive response she received from the Craigslist user counted as a point toward this new chapter. Weeks later, Deyanna attends an art event in Atlanta. She plants herself in front of a painting to appreciate its detail and is pleasantly surprised when its painter approaches to talk. The painter is EuGene Byrd. After an invigorating conversation, the pair agree to exchange numbers. When Deyanna types EuGene’s number into her phone, her text thread with the Craigslist user appears. The Craigslist user is also EuGene Byrd. That was a short three years ago and Deyanna credits EuGene with rescuing her and her self from demise. Deyanna says “that rough patch helped [her] redraw [her] external self resulting in a journey back to [her] self-confidence."
Artist Kevin Williams’ praise for Deyanna early in her art modeling journey remains a valuable reminder of the scarcity of Black female muses and thus all Black female muses’ power within the art community.
Deyanna mentions a specific dissatisfying situation with an art photographer. The photographer’s edits to a photo of the muse immediately read as malicious. Deyanna remembers feeling hurt by the manipulation of her image but decided to utilize the image anyway. That malicious photo eventually earned her thousands of Instagram followers with positive, supportive intentions. Deyanna “always balanced the scales of societal beauty; [she] was never that ‘bad bitch’ from Atlanta, but [she doesn’t] necessarily fit the label ‘natural beauty’ either." Thankfully, through musing, Deyanna cultivates her own identity. Nandi’s parting words are about her image and how, over time, controlling it has been futile. Instead, she “makes peace with the fact that [her] image cannot be controlled," but what she can control is her personal response.