The Art of A Self Portrait

This week we are elated to feature the work of Damola Akintunde, a photographer and member of our Beautiful Community. Damola often photographs herself in beautiful self portraits so we asked her a few questions about her process, inspiration and tips for creating a self portrait.

What does the self portrait process look like for you during this time?

My process is pretty similar to what I did pre self-isolation but I’m definitely more intentional about what I want to convey in my photos. It includes a lot of self exploration as a form of creativity and a very useful way to stay grounded. 

What was your inspiration?

I wanted to tap into the more whimsical side of myself through my hair and clothing. Basically finding new ways to physically present myself. 

Why create self portraits right now? 

I am the easiest subject to connect to right now and it forces me to find new ways to visually represent the emotions I want to tap into during this time. 

Untitled by Damola Akintunde

As a photographer, why did you choose to step in front of the camera? 

I chose to step in front of the camera initially out of fear. I was not comfortable enough to document other people when I started to do photography and was more willing to do trial and error with myself first. 

Why are self portraits important to you?

Self portraits are important to me because I can use them to explore narratives that are important to me. I have full ownership over the stories I want to portray and it reinforces the authority I have over my lived experiences. 

3 Basic tips for creating a great self portrait:

  1. Great lighting! Lighting is a great way to change the mood or focus in an image. 
  2.  Imagine the emotions you want to convey as you are shooting to make it easier. 
  3. Create a mood board with poses for inspiration!

Based in North Carolina, Damola Akintunde is a photographer that utilizes visuals as a form of expression of the self. She uses self-portraiture to capture her own personal story as a Nigerian-American woman, in addition to lending herself as a tool for others to align their self perception with their physical presentation, turning them into art. You can see her work via her instagram.

Recently we asked women in our Beautiful Community for care practices that they have been using to bring peace and wellness into their homes while navigating demands and stressors brought on by the pandemic.  First up, we are highlighting a photo series by Pasha Gray entitled Self-Care. “For me, self care is taking care of yourself, drinking some wine, doing a little bit with your makeup, dressing up. Have some fun,” says Pasha. 

Her personal interpretation of self-care comes to life through her photographs of Winnie Okwakol drinking wine and looking chic. The aesthetic of the photoshoot embodies Pasha’s personal style — a fashionable laid back 90s vibe with a pop of color and glam — showcasing that self-care can also consist of getting dressed up to look cute, even when there is nowhere to go. Pasha styles Winnie with simple items that she recreates for new and stylish looks. “A lot of it is pulled from my closet. The black top and the jeans are minimal. I was going for a cute and relaxed look in the house.” While quarantining at home, Pasha recognizes the significance of getting dressed and how it affects her mood. “I know a lot of us aren’t probably dressing up or doing the little things that make us feel like us. For me, it was getting a little too much with wearing sweat pants all of the time. I needed to do something different, even when it was not much.”  

After a couple of weeks into the stay-at-home orders, Pasha noticed online conversations among creatives and entrepreneurs about how to productively use this time to create, to work, and to produce. The question of productivity came to mind for Pasha. What does it mean for her to be productive and creative in this time? Her answer is to release the pressure to produce and to focus this time on herself.

She is passing the time by cooking, reading new books, digital coloring, and staying fit with online workouts. She stretches every morning to help prepare her day and calls family and friends via Facetime to maintain connection with loved ones. “Self-care can be defined in various ways depending on who you ask,” Pasha states. “Most importantly, during this time, take a moment for yourself. Right now the world is at a standstill and the future seems unclear but try to take this time to relax and refocus your energy on the possibilities.” 

Pasha gifted us with a playlist of cool self-care vibes. Take a listen and use as a soundtrack for your self-care activities. 

Pasha Gray is a filmmaker, video editor, and photographer. She loves telling a story which leaves the viewer feeling a wide range of emotions. She’s inspired by 90’s era films that embody strong story with moving soundtracks that not only reinforce the film’s story line, but help to move the story along and make you feel for the characters. You can check out her her work via instagram.

During this wonderful journey of having our images and words on display in the Pen, Lens & Soul exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we must lift up and celebrate the women artists in the show and in our community who have sojourned alongside us over the years. 

A few of the women artists shared reflections about the experience seeing their work in Pen, Lens & Soul. 

How did you feel about seeing your face/words/photographs in this exhibit?

I felt valued, celebrated, and deserving to see my work, my image, and the work and images of girls and women I know at The Met. For one, the exhibit marked a moment of personal and professional growth in my existence as a Black woman and in my artistry as a writer and image maker. Seeing my words from 2016 marked how influential TBP has been in my development as a writer and scholar, and for my own individual growth. Additionally, it marks the revolutionary unity that is Black woman- and girlhood. It transcends time, age, and even location as a number of us have moved to different parts of the world. The exhibit reminds me that when we are together, we are unstoppable, and the exhibit is proof of our already innate love, respect, and care for one another.  ~Alexandria Miller 

What is special about having a whole exhibit like this dedicated to showing the perspective of Black girls and women?

“What’s most special about this whole exhibit is that we get to tell our stories our way. With how quickly the media shifts, the world only gets the highlight reels which, unfortunately, don’t show us in our light. What this exhibit offers is an intimate look into what our worlds look and feel like, how dynamic and nuanced we are and how we hold space for each other.” ~Winnie Okwakol 

What is special/important about having your work at The Met for you as an individual? 

I remember moving to NYC years ago to pursue my dream I’m currently living. To come back years later and to have my work in the most prestigious museum is, I honestly don’t have the words. Our/ my work is in the same museum as ancient artifacts! This is big! I’m still processing it. I’m thankful and honored to be a part of this collective. ~Pasha Gray

We are grateful for all of the beautiful women who have opened their hearts and minds to our purpose at The Beautiful Project and who have gifted us their love, time, words, and trust over the years. 

Our hearts are still full after reliving the opening of our first large-scale New York exhibition, Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of The Beautiful Project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art!  To our Friends, Families and Supporters:

We want to express our deep and heartfelt appreciation for those of you who were able to join us for the phenomenal opening reception of Pens, Lens, & Soul: The Story of the Beautiful Project at The Metropolitan Art Museum. For those of you who were unable to be physically present, we felt your love from afar. It is truly a dream come true for us to display the work of our collective of Black girls and women in this historic art institution; a dream made even sweeter by your presence and support throughout the years.



Pen, Lens, & Soul will remain up at The Uris Center for Education until February 24th. Please continue to share the exhibit with your family and friends and when you go, tag our social media accounts when you post online (@thebeautifulprj on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).


Special thanks again to The Met for generously partnering with us for this powerful exhibition. Thanks also to The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and to the members of the Collaborative for Creative Practice and Social Justice for all of your support.




AlineSitoe, age 11

For our opening reception, a few of the young artists from our cohort were able to share their experiences as artists in the show. We are excited to bring our entire cohort of artists to see their work in the exhibition in January! We’ll leave you here with words from our girls’ reactions to their work being shown at The Met:

“I loved my experience at The Beautiful Project and still do. I hope my images inspire other Black girls and woman to accomplish their dreams by staying true to their origins.” ~Lacquen, 11 years old

“While participating in The Beautiful Project, I learned to take short, simple sentences and turn them into deeply detailed and meaningful sentences. To have my words in this exhibit makes me feel famous. I hope my words encourage and challenge Black girls to tell stories and write no matter what others think.” ~Israel, 9 years old

“The experience with The Beautiful Project was a fun learning experience. I learned different types of ways to write and that I can make a book my own way. I feel surprised and amazed to see my work in this exhibit, and I am very thankful for everybody that helped me get up here. I hope my words impact other girls to keep going and never stop. I want them to know that their thoughts and ideas are valuable.” ~Jocelyn, 10 years old

“Being with the girls in The Beautiful Project helped me learn there are many young ladies still trying to find their way. I’m feeling proud that my pictures were important enough to make it this far. I hope other Black girls and women see that they can express themselves through photography to anyone.”  ~Ahmadie, 16 years old

If you would like to schedule a group tour between January 6th and February 24th, contact Suhaly Bautista Carolina, Senior Managing Educator, Audience Development and Engagement ( and Alexis Gonzalez, Program Associate, Audience Development and Engagement (

Pen Lens & Soul graphic design by Winnie Okwakol, image by Jamaica Gilmer. Sweet thanks to Dannese and Jayden Mapanda, Ahmadie Bowles, and Elle Thompson for bringing the visual heart of Pen, Lens and Soul to life.

For everything, there is a time and a season. And now, it is time to rest.

During the month of July, the women of The Beautiful Project will take some time to realign with ourselves and our purpose, reconnect with our hobbies, our gifts, our people and remember who we are and why we do this work. We are a collective of scholars and artistic activists careful not to leave ourselves out of the work we engage for Black women and girls. We believe in practicing regular rhythms of rest while we work and we also know that there must be times of refreshing, where the focus is the rest.

As we close our doors and our eyes, for just a little while, we challenge you to figure out your rest rhythms. What are the practices you have in place to offer yourself respite in the middle of the fullness of your life? Deeper, how do you intentionally take time away from it all to burrow in simplicity and comfort so that you can experience physical, mental and emotional rest?

Whether you choose to meditate or sit outside in the summer heat with your face to the sun for just a few minutes each day, simple practices like these can offer so much peace and joy for the journey in those moments when walking away is not an option. But please figure out a way to walk away because restoration is its own kind of work and thus needs its own space to be carried out well.

The world moves to a steady hum. Whether we provide instrumentation by way of the contributions we make through our work and other efforts, the hum penetrates consistently, relentlessly. More simply stated, life goes on, with or without us. So, let’s take care of ourselves. It’ll be there when we get back and if it isn’t, it either wasn’t ours or wasn’t time. Identify the “it” that threatens to hinder your ability to rest and reposition the energy it consumes.

Take the time you need to give yourself the love you need.

There’s only one you. Love her well.

See you in August.


Words by Pamela Thompson

Photo by Kaci Kennedy

Allison Brown has this way of making the room go still, locking eyes with you so that you can hear your way to freedom in her next words.  When we falter and are afraid, she intensely mobilizes her support so that we can keep moving.  Our lives are better because of her sisterhood, and we are humbled to have her on our board.  Allison is love and valor personified.  As she reflects on facing life and cancer, we hope her words propel you as they have us.

“I am re-making myself, I hope, in the image of the divine, of Love.  Love has kept me, comforted me, grounded me.  Love is re-orienting me.  It’s my bread crumbs when I am lost.  It is the impossibly heavy-duty crane that lifts me from my bed when all that is on repeat in my mind is ‘I cannot’.  It is the tidal wave that somehow miraculously compels my feet, one in front of the other when I am otherwise paralyzed by pain, malaise, fear.”

Continue reading Of Love and Cancer via medium