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Anissa Lewis, 2023, 314 Pleasant St. Photo based print. Courtesy of the artist

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Q&A with Anissa Lewis, Artist and Wave Pool Executive Director

Posted on October 18, 2023

Anissa Lewis is an artist based in Covington, KY and serves as the Executive Director at Wave Pool. FotoFocus interviewed Lewis to learn more about her participation in The Convening and what’s coming next.

Anissa R. Lewis is an artist based in Covington, KY. Lewis holds a deep belief in community and identity, and understands that there is power in place, access, and stories. This view has led her to teach, to activate community-based projects, and to make art for the past 20 years. Select projects include: arts-based women empowerment classes for a Philadelphia County prison drug and alcohol abuse unit; a rites of passage program for black and brown teenage girls; interactive murals aimed to address neighborhood voice and relationships; and site-specific installations and videos capturing stories and histories of a neighborhood experiencing disenfranchisement and divestment.

Lewis became the Executive Director of Wave Pool in 2023. In addition to Lewis being a panelist during The Convening, Wave Pool’s The Welcome Project will host lunch on Saturday, October 21. Wave Pool is a socially-engaged art center that acts as a conduit for community change through artist opportunities and support. Wave Pool includes an art gallery, studios, artist residency program, wood shop, ceramics studio, and community gathering space. They are best known for initiating and supporting artist driven social practice projects and exhibiting work that stretches beyond our gallery walls through interactive projects that proactively support our neighbors, such as The Welcome Project. The Welcome Project empowers Cincinnati’s refugee and immigrant population while connecting, assisting, and inspiring all through art and food. Listening deeply, and collaborating broadly, they work with neighbors and partner organizations to problem solve as artistic practice.

FotoFocus chatted with Lewis to learn more about her participation in The Convening and what’s coming next.

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Anissa Lewis, For Rent, 2022. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist

FotoFocus: As we promote your participation, how does your personal work and philosophy relate to the themes of The Convening? 

Anissa Lewis: A lot, actually, although I never thought about it as such, so directly.  When I think about my work, I think about the people/community whose stories I want to elevate.  It is those stories, individually and collectively, of such incredible humanity and realness, for which I want to hold space.  But those stories derive their importance due to land sovereignty, access, or rather, the lack thereof.   In my work, the defining characteristic of my community is place and the land.  We derive our connection because we live amongst one another.  Our plights and livelihood are inextricably woven together because of place, i.e. the land on which we live and were designed to live on due to our race, both implicitly and explicitly.

Place plays into that due to what I touched on in my response above.  

Anissa Lewis, 2017, Pleasant St. lot (White and Yellow). Courtesy of the artist

FF: Do you consider this land, this place, this region in your bodies or work and how? How does place play into that? 

AL: My work would not exist except for this land, this place, this region.  One reason is due to history and the historical role that the Ohio River and Kentucky and Ohio played in this region and the country.  That discussion operates in the background of my work.  It definitely creates the context around my work, because that history has dictated how we engage with one another where race is concerned.  

FF: What is coming next for you/Wave Pool/The Welcome Project? How can we support your endeavors? 

AL: I am excited for the year ahead.  Wave Pool is coming up on a huge milestone due to hard work of Cal Cullen and the Wave Pool team to do the good work.  You’ll have to stay tuned to our socials to hear about it in the upcoming months.  But not to completely evade the question, I am looking forward to continuing those signature programs of Wave Pool and Welcome Project, the artist and curatorial residencies, the Cincinnati Tables, how to be a better ally to immigrant communities, and working with socially engaged artists on the next iteration of community driven projects in Camp Washington.  Wave Pool is here to work alongside our neighbors to address our neighborhood’s issues. 

How you can support is to educate yourself on the issues the socially engaged artists we support are addressing in their work and then decide where you will enter to impact your sphere of influence, attend Wave Pool events and donate to your cause in whatever way you can.

FF: Whose work do you look at, in terms of the themes of The Convening, as a resource or that you admire who we may not know about? 

AL: Folks I I fangirl over Amanda Williams, Brett Cook, Tonika Lewis Johnson, Amber Art and Design, House/Full of Black Women, and David Hammons.

Lewis will participate in the 11am panel at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Saturday, October 21, 2023 with Chip Thomas, Photographer and Public Artist, Flagstaff, AZ; and Tania Willard, Artist and Curator, Syilx Territories, British Columbia, Canada; Moderated by Kevin Moore, FotoFocus Artistic Director and Curator, New York, NY.

Additionally, there will be a Wave Pool/The Welcome Project Lunch on Saturday, October 21, 2023 at the Contemporary Arts Center, 1:30pm.

Check out the full Symposium schedule.