“It’s said that a Black man was the first human,” the artist Ceres Henry, who also goes by the name Diaja, tells me. “It’s also said that Adam and Eve were Melanated beings.” Her ongoing Adam & Eve Series is a tribute to the people of the African diaspora, their beauty and divinity, during a time in our collective history where white supremacist violence continues to make national headlines. The vivid portraits, each featuring body paintings by Diaja herself, are the artist’s resounding response to harmful ideas and images reflected in the media for generations.
The inspiration for Adam & Eve came to Diaja by chance when she spotted a child with a flower painted on her face. “I put my own spin on it and painted the model all black so everything I painted on top would pop,” she remembers. “I decided to paint multiple flowers and incorporate real flowers into my imagery. That was the beginning of something major, yet at the time, it was just another creative day for me.”
Diaja’s muses for the series include professional models she’s worked with in the past, but she’s also featured friends and family members. She does everything herself, from the wardrobe and flower styling to painting. The painting itself takes about one and a half hours on average, though it all depends on the vision. The actual floral adornment, using living flowers, happens last. “Everyone I’ve worked with is amazed by how they look when I’m done painting them,” she admits.
As for the flower selections, Diaja says they hold no meaning in particular. She chooses them for their colors and because they’re beautiful. Still, flowers have a long history as symbols of resistance and solidarity. I can’t help but think of Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and all the other Civil Rights activists, who when marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, famously wore double carnation lei, gifted to them from Hawaii. I think also of the lush community greenhouse that was erected this year at George Floyd Square to grow flowers for the memorial.
It’s been four years since Diaja created her first Adam portrait, and the project continues to evolve and grow. “This ongoing series is my way of countering the negative stereotypes and stigmas placed on my people,” she shared on Instagram early this year. “This one’s for us! When you see these images, you’ll have no choice but to behold the splendor of our Blackness. We are works of art.”
All images © Diaja