Poets, photographers, makeup artists, singers, filmmakers, graphic designers, a dancer and even a quilter. On the Instagram page @MadeByBlackSC, so many artists are in one place you’d think it was a renaissance — something that might seem unlikely to happen while USC students are taking classes from home and the arts economy continues to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
But as protests against police brutality and racism grew over the summer, and as USC continues to face calls for racial justice and police reform on campus, the renaissance happened naturally. Specifically for @MadeByBlackSC founders Chloe Janson and Naomi Ituah, their account served as a platform for reimagining the future of the arts at USC.
In an interview with Annenberg Media, Ituah, a junior majoring in cinema and media studies, explained how hosting a protest in her local community of Corona, CA, motivated her to continue to “emulate the feeling of just gathering people together to appreciate Black lives, so, I came up with @MadebyBlackSC as a way to appreciate Black creatives such as myself.”
Ituah and Janson came together with the same goal of wanting to help showcase the Black students on campus.
“Black artists are just so underrepresented in the community,” Janson, who is majoring in cinema and media studies, said in an interview with Annenberg Media.
The same goes for the country. According to a 2019 study from Williams College, only 1.2% of the art in major U.S. museums was done by Black artists.
When asked about the university’s efforts to highlight Black voices in their community, Ituah said that while she felt the university was trying, it didn’t feel like enough.
“They would try something but they wouldn’t really continue it or make it stronger and just looking around my cohort I just realized I was like one of the few Black film students there,” Ituah said. “I feel like we weren’t being as appreciated with regards to the resources we were receiving or the help that we were getting.”
Knowing that many of the Black voices at USC weren’t being amplified, Janson wanted to make a space where “I could repost and educate people,” as well as “create something and amplify the voices of Black artists.”
As a result, the page itself acts like an art piece, with each post highlighting a new artist through a unique scrapbook design. The posts are bright and graphic, featuring the images and stories of Black creatives at USC.
“We really wanted to provide a very comprehensive description of each Black artist, instead of posting a slide of their art,” Janson said. “We wanted to make it very personable [with interviews] to learn their real stories.”
She did just that with the page’s first feature on July 23, which depicted Gbenga, a 20-year-old business major with a passion for photography and quilting.
In the post, Gbenga expresses the importance of “incorporating his Black roots into his art and to showcase Black people doing other things than being Black.” The Instagram carousel spotlights images he has taken of protests, in addition to a multicolored quilt he emblazoned with the words “PROTECT BLACK TRANS LIVES.”
When asked how she navigates the creative space at USC, makeup artist Naomi Lestage said she has had difficulty finding a space where she feels represented.
“You may be an artist, you may be talented, you may be smart, you got into USC,” said Lestage, a sophomore majoring in interactive media and games. “At the end of the day, you’re still a Black woman. And that’s something you can’t escape, that treatment, regardless of what medium you do."
But since the creation of @MadeByBlackSC, Lestage has seen increased recognition of Black creatives on campus, as well as a new virtual community for USC students.
“I made some really good friends through [@MadeBy]BlackSC posting me on their Instagram,” Lestage said. “So … that’s a really great thing to know.”
Hailey Long, a senior majoring in health and human sciences, was recently featured on the account discussing her original magazine, “MOODzine.” She echoed Lestage’s sentiments about representation on campus.
“I think what they’re doing is pretty amazing, just highlighting a lot of Black creatives, and creating a community for all of us to kind of connect with each other.” Long said. “It’s always hard to find people at USC and find communities. So I think it’s really amazing.”
Since being featured on the @MadeByBlackSC Instagram, Lestage said many non-Black USC students have reached out to her saying they were not aware of makeup artists like her on campus.
According to Janson, @MadeByBlackSC plans to continue facilitating social connections within the USC community in the future. Janson said she and Ituah want to continue running the account after they graduate, and that they are considering recruiting ambassadors to help feature more Black creatives on the account.
Additionally, Lestage believes @MadeByBlackSC is a great platform for future Black USC students to network.
“If I was an incoming student for 2024, I could check out MadeByBlackSC, DM that person and just hit them up because I know that they’re current or alumni Trojan,” Lestage said.
This article has been revised to include an interview with Ituah.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled co-founder Naomi Ituah’s name.
A previous version of this story also misquoted Naomi Lestange. Correction made Sept. 11, 5:54 p.m.