London, Ontario based mixed media artist Bernice U. creates sculptural canvases of Black womanhood which emphasize the folds and drapes of their clothing. She uses a surrealistic style to highlight the tension between reality and fiction of an empowered Black woman. In reality, Black women are often marginalized and discriminated against, while in Bernice U’s pieces, they are empowered cosmic deities. This does not mean Black women are not accomplished nor powerful in reality, it is more so that society tends to undermine them and place them in a disadvantaged position. Therefore, Bernice U.’s pieces call for a bridge between reality and the fiction of empowered Black women, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

That Girl by Bernice U. Image courtesy of

In all of her pieces which depict Black women, Bernice U. has sculpted the folds of their draped clothes to stand out from the canvas. Draped and wrapped clothing are an integral part of African culture and identity. They are often used as both formal and informal wear and are a captivating display of African craftsmanship and creativity.

Headwraps, as portrayed in Bernice U.’s piece Gele, are even used to convey an individual’s background and heritage, just by understanding the differing degrees of how they are worn, for example how they are tied, hunched and even the different amount of pleats made when they are draped. Hence, for Black women, they are a way to embrace their ancestral connections and rich cultural heritage.

Gele by Bernice U. Image courtesy of

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze also charted in his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque that folds and drapes are the structures of the universe. He cites how everything from the smallest of cells to the cosmic growth of galaxies is done in a folding motion.

In a similar vein, Bernice U.‘s pieces trace a direct line between the identities of Black women and the grandeur of the universe. Showcasing them as the larger-than-life forces that they are. Every bit worthy of celebration.

The Grace of Tems by Bernice U. Image courtesy of

In her piece The Grace of Tems, she has even taken a step further by portraying a Black public figure in her signature drapes. The Grace of Tems is her tribute to Tems, the Nigerian singer-songwriter who was also the first Nigerian to be nominated for an Oscar. 

In the piece, Tems stands tall and proud in her 2023 Oscars gown — a dress which went viral for its tall and large presence, which loomed over seated guests at the Oscars and had people on the internet asking if the dress was too much for such an occasion.

“The dress is [also] my way of celebrating my work and the people around me, celebrating my country, and celebrating the people that are rooting for me. This dress says, 'Yes, yes, I am here!‘ shared Tems about her dress, a statement which reflects the sentiments imbued within Bernice U.’s pieces.

Bernice U. is a Black woman herself and her decision to portray Tems in this dress further amplifies and celebrates Black womanhood. As Tems has put it, the Oscars was not just her night, it was also a night for Black women and her dress was her way of celebrating that. To put her and Black women’s accomplishments in the spotlight in a society where they are often shunned. 

Bernice U.‘s surrealistic style elevates Black women’s identities to those of cosmic deities. Her pieces challenge societal norms and call for a reconciliation between reality and the empowering fiction she has created. At the end of the day, celebrates the rich and complex identities of Black women, hailing them as forces of grandeur, worthy of reverence. 

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