Enriching lives through art and craft

APPALACHIAN CRAFT & CULTURE FELLOW: AISHA BROWN

Summer 2020

Aisha Brown is a poet, cultural worker and interdisciplinary artist. Her primary craft—which fulfills a basic human
need for warmth, comfort and the art of storytelling—turns fiber and textiles into hats, coats, bags, costumes and
dolls. Eight years of music study and practice, in her youth, equipped her to give piano lessons to young people in
her community and play for her church. Her interests expanded over the years and includes a practice of making
collage, performance art and spoken word. Aisha’s mission is to utilize art, culture, education and creative process
to assist planetary healing and challenge the cultural and spiritual imbalances impacting society.

Family role models taught Aisha a great deal as they made clothes, gardened, created flower clubs, church teas,
educational experiences and organized voter turn out in their communities. They passed to her a high regard for
education and a tradition of attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for four generations. She
studied psychology and horticulture at Hampton, Knoxville College and Tennessee State University.

As writer-in-residence in the 1980s, Aisha managed an 11th Street Arts Colony Gallery, Rags and Old Iron. She
worked as Highlander Research and Education Center librarian and cultural program assistant for a short while and
met other organizers working from a cultural perspective. Aisha co-wrote a play for the Sexual Assault Crisis Center;
co-produced Peace on Earth Begins at Home, a public rally against domestic violence; and Tell the Children: an
African American Legacy, that had three sold out performances at Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre. She developed a
longtime association with storytellers, cultural workers and traditional African dance and drum artists in Middle
Tennessee; and made storytelling costumes for Carpetbag Theatre, the oldest Black theatre company in the South.

Beulah’s Eye (an art shop located in Knoxville Tennessee’s Old City) was Aisha’s retail business for marketing African
and African American art, jewelry, and the work of local East TN artists. During this time (late eighties/early nineties)
Aisha was a co-founder and business sponsor of African American Appalachian Arts and a key organizer of the
organization’s first event (AAAA Exposition) and first Kuumba Festival. After this, she returned to Highlander Center’s
popular education team to coordinate its Youth Citizenship School and cultural/diversity committee responsible for
Highlander’s undoing racism process. Consulting for businesses and non-profits, Aisha also volunteered on several
non-profit Boards over the years, including the Appalachian Community Fund.

Aisha is author of a performance piece called Veiled Occurrences, which is poetry, stories, chants and prayers
exploring women, religion and the contemporary veils people dance through life with, hide behind or embrace. It
was performed at Laurel Theatre, Yoga Haven and the Show What You Know Festival. Aisha’s work-in-progress,
Ancestor Sunrise, highlights the gifts of her maternal lineage; and includes a backdrop and costumes she began
working on during her Arrowmont Fellowship. Aisha develops and facilitates workshops that guide people to tell
their own stories, challenge racism and view other cultural perspectives in a different light. The Veiled Occurrences
workshop utilizes shawls, veils, and percussions to help participants experience their internal rhythmic spirit.

Blessed to travel and experience diverse cultures, Aisha drove throughout the deep South and Southern Appalachia
while doing popular education fieldwork. Preparing for this as a child, she often visited family in nearby mountain
and rural communities. Crediting family migration North, she also spent a lot of time in Chicago, DC and New York
City; and one exciting childhood memory was the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Additional journeys, included
glimpses of London England, Sao Paulo Brazil, and Dakar Senegal. Aisha attended two World Social Forums, one in
Mumbai India (2004) and another in Porte Alegre, Brazil (2006) where she interacted with activists and organizers
from around the world. Knoxville, however is home. Since 2016, Aisha has participated in political organizing and
education, as a co-founder of the Knoxville People’s Assembly and City County Movement.

Aisha’s interdisciplinary approach to cultural work and organizing brings together her high value of social justice,
humanity and community expressed through her unique voice and vision; and led to receipt of an Arrowmont
Appalachian Craft and Culture Fellowship in 2020 as a cultural bearer. She used the fellowship “to plan, establish a
solid work schedule, learn new skills, explore different media, and experiment with interdisciplinary ideas that merge
visual art with poetry and storytelling” and to expand her work as a maker and artist.

P.O. Box 2183
Knoxville TN 37901
donnaaishabrown@gmail.com

“I feel as though I went into social justice work through my family. In some ways being born with more melanin in my skin, in this part of the world, under the historical context of America… makes the date of my birth, probably, also the date my activism began.” – Donna Uma Aisha Brown excerpt from “We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk About What They Do and Why” by Kristin Layng Szakos and Joe Szakos


UNC Southern Oral History Program Interviews: The Long Civil Rights Movement:
The South Since the 1960s The Women’s Movement in the South 
ART WORKSTENNESSEE ARTS COMMISIONTENNESSEE FOR THE ARTSTennessee Specialty License PlatesEAST TENNESSEE FOUNDATIONWindgate Foundation

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