by Dylan Deprey
Throughout high school Dontrell Corey Fells followed his mother’s dream of him to be an engineer. He was the founder of the Robotics Club, President of the Math and Science Club and President of the Rube Goldberg team.
In one fowl swoop, all of his passion for engineering had disappeared following his mother’s death in 2011.
After having constant arguments with his older sister, he moved in next door with family friends. Fells’ new “brother” bought a camera to have pictures taken of him, and he needed a photographer. While pegged as the smart and sporty person Fells was reluctant, especially because cameras were a rare occurrence in his family.
“I have photos of my mom, they’re with my sister and I haven’t seen them since I was a kid,” Fells said.
He graduated from Whitefish Bay high school later that year and ended up moving in with one of his teacher’s for the time being. Although he was set to go to college, he was still not comfortable being around people. So, he joined the Army.
Flash forward four years later. He has a year and half left with the Army Fells and is a finance student at UWM, looking to secure a spot on Wall Street.
Although he did not take the path he would have if his mother were alive, he plans to honor her with something she taught him early on in life: to appreciate the burden of the black woman.
Fells said that he had watched many movies with his mother. One that stood out was a rendition of the Zora Neale Hurston novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” He talked about the pivotal scene near the beginning of the movie where a grandmother forces 16-year-old granddaughter to marry an older man because he owned land.
Fells said that historically black women have been forced onto the bottom tier following white men, black men and white women. The 50 Black Women project will showcase the many shades of black women from all walks of life.
“I wanted to express and say ‘Black women have always been appreciated but they’ve also had to carry the burdens in society,” Fells said.
The different shades of black women gleaming against a waxy emerald hedge will also be accompanied by their life story. Fells mentioned how after being adopted by white parents and living in small farm town in Wisconsin now wants to learn about her African roots. Miela Fetaw is one of Fells’ longtime friends who modeled for the project. Her family is from Eritrea and she is proud of her culture.
“I think what separates his art from other work is that he’s thinking about things critically, he’s not just taking pictures of black women, he wants to know their stories,” Fetaw said.
She said what caught her eye was how Fells made it a priority to introduce different types of Black identity which are somewhat overlooked. She gave an example of one of the models, which is of Mexican decent, but identifies as an afro-latina.
The 50 Women Project will debut Nov. 21st, 2016, which just so happens to be his mother’s birthday.
He said that his exhibition would be an experience for all of the senses. He wanted other people to avoid his first trip to the art museum, which ended with a security guard reprimanding him for touching a painting.
“I can’t experience art if I’m two feet away from it,” Fells said. “It looks cool but it felt like I was ripped off.”
A string quartet humming Kanye West instrumentals, traditional organic southern food and dancers will accompany the photographs.
Although he may not be following the path his mother had planned the exhibition is one hundred percent a reflection of her life.
“She was my best friend and she pretty much inspired me,” Fells said. “I want to talk about different things she has always talked to me about.”