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Corey Fells: 100 Womxn Project uses portraits to share empowering stories about women of color

100 Womxn Project has been presented as a celebration of diversity, resilience, and womanhood. Inspired by his late mother, Corey Fells set out to document 100 minority millennials from across the most segregated city in America.

Fells is a Milwaukee photographer and artist who grew up on the north side of Milwaukee. He produced the 100 Womxn Project in 2017 to showcase individual stories. It was designed to collect the backgrounds of Milwaukee’s young women of color, express their growth, strength, and the cultural beauty that weaved their lives together.

From a young age, his mother taught Fells that many women of color rarely get the chance to make their voices heard. Before she passed away, she would make him read books and report on them before he could participate in summer vacation activities. One of the novels was Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”

“She always emphasized to me that there are women in society that are not really given a voice, or they’re not given proper respect,” Fells said. “So, I wanted to make a story that was compelling and told a true story about Milwaukee.”

The truest and most genuine story Fells imagined was to connect women of color and present their stories. Hispanic and black millennial women rarely get a platform to be heard, let alone seen. All the pictures for the 100 Womxn Project were taken in front of the same 100’ by 70’ ivy-covered wall over the course of three seasons. The background created a visual continuity against the changing colors.

“I took a walk to work from my house on the east side of Milwaukee and I saw this beautiful, huge wall covered by natural vines. And it looked really aesthetically pleasing to take a photo there,” Fells explained.

This project is an extensions of multicultural women having the right and responsibility to speak their special truths and to make it their own unique contribution to forward flow of social and human history.

Fells said that the women were able to show their personalities in their portraits. During the photo shoot, he would ask them to share stories about their personal lives or careers. Then he would capture their expressions. Some of the women made silly faces. Some were smiling and laughing. Others were serious. Participants consisted of women who have fought addiction, depression, and abuse as well as others who have aspirations of becoming social activists, healers, teachers, artist, doctors, and actors.

Photos from the 100 Womxn Project just finished their exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in Washington County on January 13. Fells said he was grateful for the opportunity to showcase his work, and help give the young women a platform for their message. Fells hopes to set an example in the growing photography culture of Milwaukee, and would like to see others showcase their skills in similar projects.

Each of the women shared a unique story as a new generation of American, with ancestors who were brought to our shores by boats.

“I’m a 21 year-old Puerto Rican from the south side of Milwaukee. I was raised by a single mother and have an older brother and sister. I grew up a tomboy and I was a brainiac. I was picked on a lot by my cousins and siblings so I grew up with a lot of confidence issues, never feeling attractive or pretty enough. My biological dad wasn’t prominent in my life and has had issues with monogamy and fidelity. Growing up, people would call me cold hearted because I didn’t want to get attached to people. I was anti-marriage because of what my mom went through, I wanted to dip out before I got hurt. I feared being abandoned, as I often felt with my dad.”

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