Her brown face appears in profile, partially obscured by dogwoods. She looks toward the horizon, presenting an image of the gentle fortitude of Black womanhood.
It’s subtly obvious. And that’s what Jeff Manning intended when he designed the book cover for “Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem” by theGrioWhite House correspondent, April Ryan.
“Most of my work is inspired by Black women and pays homage to the leadership of Black women,” the Philadelphia-based artist explained. “I was mainly raised by Black women, so that’s the inspiration – paying back what Black women have done for me in my lifetime.”
However, the earthy pastel palette extends beyond serving as a tribute to his ride-or-die mother, loving grandmother and devoted aunts. With just two images – a woman and a dogwood – Manning splinters tropes and captures the essence of Ryan and the women she profiles although he never read a word of the book scheduled for a fall release.
“I love Black art,” Ryan said, “and to see the juxtaposition of beauty and the fight; the solemnness of her ‘I’ve got my eyes on the prize and nothing’s going to sway me’ gaze… I just thought, ‘Oh my God. Something this beautiful is going to be connected to something that I wrote. Black women are not in many instances considered the standard of beauty. And that cover is nothing but beauty. ”
That was Manning’s vision. “From a media standpoint, it’s the darker Black woman that gets labeled with the angry Black woman stigma. I used a darker woman to spin away from that and say she is beautiful, ”Manning said. And the pastels? “The Black women in my life have been soft but tough at the same time.”
Manning also infuses sheen onto the image. Her chin glistens. The left ear – bracketed by the flowers – glows. Gloss overlays her deep navy blue lipstick. On her eyes, a shimmering gold liner is a counterpoint to long, full lashes.
“I think of Black people as royalty, so a part of what I associate with royalty is glow,” Manning disclosed. “That kind of fits into Black girl magic.”
The graphic designer intentionally eschewed bold, primary colors. “I am a huge fan of earth tones because I have a mellow, laid-back personality. It’s a common theme throughout all my pieces – khaki greens, browns, tans, ”he said.
In her brown beauty, Manning’s subject is staring intently, meaningfully looking out on a horizon.
Ryan never met or spoke with Manning but immediately grasped his direction with the gaze of the Black beauty. “She’s looking strategically forward without wavering,” Ryan noted. “She knows where her focus should be.”
Is she channeling her energy on saving the world? Because that is arduous business. Yet Manning avoided depicting struggle and burden-bearing. “I did not want to go with the cliché muscle, holding the world. I wanted to use a different perspective; saving the world is 100 percent mental power, ”he said. “I put the flowers near the head to epitomize the beauty of the mind.”
The magic, the soft strength, the tenacity – Ryan sees it all. “That cover can mean so many different things to so many different people,” she reflected. The flowers reveal a Black woman’s vulnerability and her stare into the distance is about reaching the promised land, she added.
“I see every petal, every shading, the light, the colors and how he put ‘anthem’ in a box to emphasize it,” Ryan observed with excitement and appreciation.
“I was not talking about a church anthem,” Ryan said, “but it could be a church anthem because our march, our fight has been spiritual, biblical – even sacred. There are so many things I see, and it humbles me that that is the lead-in to my book. ”
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