Tenacious as Hell, Vividly: Wanda Ewing

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Tenacious as Hell, Vividly: Wanda Ewing

Exactly four years ago, I noticed some small prints at a salon on the Upper East Side, the last place I expected to encounter art so critically charged. Two weeks later, I showed up at the salon for the artist's talk. After hearing Wanda Ewing's presentation, I introduced myself and we began a dialogue that resulted in a fantastic interview, and then extended well beyond it: in person when she visited New York, and via email when she was in Nebraska. My last email from her is dated late October 2013.

By complete chance once again, I learned of Wanda Ewing’s passing in March 2014 while buying tea with friends in Soho. Recognizing the name, I asked the barista if the shop had previously been an art salon uptown. He said yes, they moved and that Wanda Ewing was the first artist they had ever showed. He was the one who told me the terrible news, leaving me in suspended disbelief all afternoon. Later at home, an internet search confirmed it: Wanda Ewing had died unexpectedly at 43 years of age. On the early hours of December 8, 2013, from complications (blood clots) due to her last chemo treatment. The closing reception of her exhibition with Rebecca Herskovitz at the Council Bluffs gallery in Omaha had been the night before, hours earlier.

At the time of our interview in 2010, Wanda Ewing had recently been the first person of color to receive tenure at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a city with a long history of racial tensions. An internationally exhibited artist who chose to return to her hometown and raise up the community that raised her, Ewing’s professional ambitions were inseparable from the success of the communities with whom she was involved. At UNO, Ewing was responsible for leading the art foundation courses—a structure of study required for all art majors at UNO. This alone points to the scope of her contribution: every single art student at UNO was taught by her.

"I’m Wanda Ewing—printmaker, painter, collage and multimedia artist and latch hook maven. I’ve been making provocative art with a political edge in my Midwestern hometown since 1999. And to do that, you have to be tenacious as hell." Photograph by Dana Damewood.