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Stephanie J. Woods is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary art at UNM. Photo courtesy of Woods.

UNM professor, artist amplifies need for Black representation


As one of the few Black female professors in the University of New Mexico art department, Stephanie J. Woods is making her mark nationally and internationally as an artist representing her culture. Now an assistant professor in interdisciplinary art at UNM, Woods has traveled all over the world as an artist, winning awards and participating in residencies and fellowships along the way.

Woods is a multimedia artist and works with a variety of different formats, including sculpture, textile, photography, video and more. She also partakes in community-engaged projects.

Although Woods resides in New Mexico currently to teach at UNM, she originally is from Charlotte, North Carolina and draws heavily from her personal life in her art. She said her work is particularly influenced by “experiences growing up in the southern region of America, specifically the Southeast.”

“A lot of my work is really influenced by the every day but also just thinking about Black American culture as well, and trying to create representation of my heritage in my work,” Woods said.

Using “material language that carries with it cultural capital,” Woods has incorporated hair weave, dyed fabrics with sweet tea, red dirt specific to Carolinians and more in her work.

Poet and educator Laura Neal has collaborated with Woods in the past and considers her an inspiration.

“In both of our practices, we cover topics like erasure, preservation, labor history, the Black narrative and Black performativity … Her work definitely has something to say,” Neal said.

Being able to contribute to much-needed representation for the Black community drives Woods.

“A majority of the world are people of color and, unfortunately, our dominant culture that we’re often exposed to and influenced by and people are forced to assimilate to is western culture,” Woods said.

Woods brought up the small number of Black professors there are in America. Of the approximately 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2018, just 6% were Black individuals, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Within that, only 3% of faculty were Black females.

“I would have never thought that I could be a professor because I didn’t have anyone in my immediate circle that looked like me that showed this as an option,” Woods said. “And so that’s why (it’s so) important so people of color see themselves in certain places so they’re empowered.”

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Neal noted that Woods has “really deep investments in her community.”

“Stephanie is just a magnificent human being and super talented artist. I especially admire her community-engaged projects. She has this ability to frame an idea and then create an experience that people can ultimately walk through, which is just, I feel, so rare,” Neal said.

In comparison to other universities Woods has been at, UNM is much more diverse and allows Woods to feel like she’s not just “one of the few.” New Mexico is a majority-minority state, meaning that more than half of the population consists of social, ethnic or racial minorities. That diversity allows Woods, who said she wouldn’t want to be an artist without teaching, to learn a variety of new things from her students.

“Because New Mexico is a (majority-minority) state and also a majority of my students are, as well, people of color, I don’t really feel like I’m the only one. I feel at home, in a sense,” Woods said.

Just before starting at UNM in the fall 2021 semester, Woods finished a residency called Black Rock in Senegal, West Africa. She was also the recipient of the Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists Residency and more.

Woods was recently announced as the 2021 winner of the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, which includes a $10,000 award. She will be recognized in May at the Society 1858 Amy P. Coy Forum.

Woods is currently showing in North Carolina as part of a group exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University called “Reckoning and Resilience: North Carolina Art Now.” In addition, Candela Books + Gallery in Virginia recently started showing her group exhibition “(de)constructed.” “CURRENTS: Identity Politics,” another group exhibit, will show at the New York A.I.R. Gallery starting Feb. 12.

“I feel that she and her work is just critical and necessary for our time, and wherever she goes, she’s going to be a gift,” Neal said.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716 


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