For Women’s History Month, Ebony magazine decided to make a digital cover experience that celebrated women and nonbinary people of color who have broken barriers across the world. Singer and actress Janelle Monáe was the star of choice, but her image was not just a simple portrait. Dressed in a black, off-the shoulder top, magenta leggings and ice-blue heels, Monáe is depicted sitting on a chair with swatches of mismatched fabrics in front of a similarly nonmatching wall, all apart of a colorful collage that has a retro feel.

The artist responsible for the collage is Baltimore’s own Bria Sterling-Wilson. Prior to being hired to work on the digital cover for March, the 29-year-old regularly used vintage clippings from Ebony magazines in her own pieces. “That’s a big deal to have Ebony contact me when I was influenced by their publication. It’s definitely an honor,” Bria said.

Sterling-Wilson focuses on photography and collage art in her studio at the famed Bromo Seltzer Tower in downtown Baltimore. Her collage art specifically focuses on society’s representation of African Americans through newspapers, magazine clippings and fabric.

Bria Sterling-Wilson places pieces of one of her collages together at her studio on March 30. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Sterling-Wilson’s artistic prowess runs in the family: Her mother attended Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University) for graphic design, and the creativity trickled down to her daughter. “I’ve just always been interested in arts,” Sterling-Wilson said. “I was mainly a painter at first and I loved drawing as a child.”

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Her passion shifted during her eighth grade year when her mother gifted her a Minolta film camera. As a freshman at New Town High School in Owings Mills, Sterling-Wilson started photographing her friends and charging them $50 for photo shoots. Her photography became more story-based as she specifically worked on setting scenes and highlighting the beauty in the models.

The joy she had in starting her own business carried over when she transferred to George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson for the remainder of high school. At Carver, Sterling-Wilson felt she had more freedom to explore different mediums which sparked her confidence to experiment artistically. Though she graduated from Towson University, she briefly attended Morgan State University and the Community College of Baltimore County before landing at Moore College of Art & Design, where she got into collaging after a history of photography class there piqued her curiosity and inspired her to dive deep into artists such as Romare Bearden.

Bria Sterling Wilson shows one of the works in her studio. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

As she found her own style as a collage artist, Sterling-Wilson began to put on her own exhibitions. Several noteworthy names in the art community took an interest in her craft, including Thomas James, a visual arts curator, and Jerrell Gibbs, an artist and now her mentor.

James became familiar with Sterling-Wilson after attending one of her shows. At the time, he was putting together “Repercussions: Redefining The Black Aesthetic,” an exhibition that “is a reflection of what contemporary Black artists are using to redefine the term ‘fine art,’” according to his website, and he wanted Sterling-Wilson to be a part of it. Since then, the two have worked together numerous times, including on Sterling-Wilson’s personal favorite solo exhibit, “Bountiful,” which James curated for her in January 2022. “Bountiful” displayed eight of Sterling-Wilson’s works at Band of Vices art gallery in Los Angeles — the artist’s first time in the West Coast state.

“She loves to push herself as an artist and a professional,” James said of Sterling-Wilson’s passion for growth. “She’s enthusiastic about experimenting when she creates, and she enjoys being in the community with other folks in the arts realm, so she inspires more artists to try out new things and to work in different ways.”

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Gibbs is one of those artists. “Watching the evolution of her keeps me wanting to try new things. She makes me to want to work in collage one day,” he said. He reached out to Sterling-Wilson about participating in one of his monthly “Art, Talks!” speaking sessions after acquainting himself with her work last year. “She challenges herself a lot, which ultimately makes her practice evolve at an accelerated rate,” he said.

As she continues her trend of constantly exploring new approaches, Sterling-Wilson has begun working on other forms of expression. “I’ve actually already started making some sculptures and going into different materials other than paper,” she said. “That’s what’s going on right now. It’s a few other small things in the works, but nothing I can tell you all just yet.”

Taji Burris has covered the Baltimore music scene since 2015 for outlets such as The Working Title and The 4th Quarter, and now at the Baltimore Banner.

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