Affirming our identity informs how we define home. Naomy Dentro (she/her) shares her journey as a mixed Black woman finding a space for herself in art that honours her past while creating space for further evolution.
What makes a home your home is your being. As you change over the course of your life, your sense of home evolves with you.
It also works the other way around: your home also changes your being.
I love this fluidity. It’s one of the reasons why I became an interior architect – to create spaces where people can be themselves.
For a long period of my life, my sense of home meant being surrounded by mostly white people.
I never realised this until I once took the wrong train in New York and was standing on a platform at night surrounded by Black men in hoodies. There was nothing threatening about the situation. They were just standing. Back in my hotel room, flushed, I realised that if they had been white I would have felt less uncomfortable.
Is that racist?
Yes, it is.
But why these feelings? I am a Black woman myself.
I dare to say, we all have prejudiced thoughts and opinions. Due to our experiences and the stories we hear around us or in the media, bias gives us the unfounded idea we can predict the outcome of an encounter. Sometimes they can help avert a dangerous situation. But most of the time, they are simply not true.
I am the only person of colour in my family. My biological father had a ‘wandering eye’ therefore my mother left him and I guess he decided to leave me because I have never met him.
My mother met my ‘real’ father when I was one and a half. A couple of years later my sister was born. A lovely white blonde girl.
I come from a warm, loving home and have always felt loved, encouraged and seen. The colour of my skin seemed non-existent. But being Black is part of my identity. A part of who I am that I am just now starting to explore at this point of my life.
I have never consciously experienced being discriminated against. I had all the chances my white sister had. And I took them.
I had access to a good education. I went to art school where the biggest challenges were daring to experiment, make mistakes and trust this process. I worked at prestigious companies where I designed work and healthcare environments, schools and private residences by translating wishes, needs and identity into a spatial design. In other words, creating a home for all types of clients. I loved my work and my colleagues.
Still, sometimes I felt like an imposter. Internalised racism due to the lack of role models of colour when I was young led me to feel like I didn’t belong. Representation matters!
Often I was one of the few people of colour anywhere I went.
I never really noticed this because feeling like an outsider was familiar to me.
Nevertheless, in the course of my career I started to change myself in order to fit in. I altered my appearance to look more ‘professional’. I edited my ways to seem bubblier. I worked too hard to prove myself worthy. In the end I totally neglected my personal life. I simply forgot the things I enjoyed as a child. When on top of that I also experienced a personal loss, it caused me to burn out.
Hard at that time, it turned out to be a fortunate reset.
I went back to the things I loved as a child.
Drawing, dreaming, exploring…
Willing to work more autonomously as an architect and an artist, I started my own company, Studio Dentro, a studio for interiorARTchitecture.
As an architect I still create homes for companies and families. As an artist, I experiment and create portraits through all different kinds of media: (digital) drawing and painting, embroidering, weaving and tufting.
I create and celebrate role models of colour who I would have wanted to see as a child.
‘Torn Between White Privilege and Black Tears’ is an ongoing art project of mine in which I interview and portray women with a similar experience. By putting faces to these stories, I hope to make the discussion about racism more accessible.
I am a creative, dreaming, inquisitive and thoughtful person with inevitable insecurities. Dealing with these insecurities made me brave enough to create this studio. A safe space which is helping me to be me.
It’s at once exciting and challenging.
But I have learned to trust the process.
This article was first published in print in Journal 002 and released in December 2022.