Art exhibit 'Out of the Darkness' celebrates women who survived hardship

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

At 37, Amanda Koss has had more than her fair share of trauma and struggle. As a child, she suffered sexual and emotional abuse. As a young adult, she was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, not long after watching her own mother go through breast cancer. It was the latter event at 33 that compelled her to paint, using art as an emotional outlet that eventually removed her need for anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications.

“Through art I have found my strength, passion and voice,” she said. “I have released something within me that gives me drive to embrace these issues, overcome them and make this life magical.”

Colibri Harris, left, and Debbie LaPratt organized "Out of the Darkness," an exhibit that honors women who have overcome hardships.

Now, Koss and more than 30 other local, female artists will join Saturday for “Out of the Darkness,” a special exhibition showcasing work expressing and celebrating women overcoming hardship. 

“We wanted specifically to celebrate women who shine in dark times,” said Colibri “The Artist” Harris, who organized the event with friend and fellow artist Debbie LaPratt. The two, who share an art-focused radio show on WJZZ and run their own women-supporting nonprofits, came up with the idea after discussing coming over their own periods of darkness through art.

For Harris, that was painting to cope with colon cancer and coming out of an abusive marriage. For LaPratt, it was using ceramics to overcome the grief following the death of her husband.

“We just kind of had this second life,” Harris said. “We wanted to do something to highlight women who were in the same position and celebrate them.”

Harris will showcase a painting featuring a black angel with colorful wings, inspired by a dream of an angel who came to Earth and re-found her colors after loss. LaPratt will exhibit a ceramic displaying a series of white-glazed women’s faces coming out of a black sky.

“The darkness is behind them, and now they’re glowing, now they’re coming out,” she said.

Koss will present paintings from her “Inner Monologue” collection, expressing her childhood trauma through texture, line and color. 

Other artists include abstract painters Nikki Lilliard and Cheryl Anne Barill. Lilliard said she re-found her confidence through multi-media painting following difficulties in her marriage and career as a hairstylist.

Artist Nikki Lilliard shows one of her abstract paintings that will be featured at the "Out of the Darkness" art exhibit.

Barill will showcase “In the Pause,” depicting a costumed figure in deep contemplation of her next move, as well as “Amari,” a painting of a tribal Ethiopian woman standing in great strength and inner poise. She said she hopes her work will remind others of their own strength.

“It is not what takes us down that defines us but how we get up,” she said. “Each time we get up, if the time was well spent while rooting for clarity, we rise with wisdom, more wisdom each time.”

Harris said people have gone through so much, especially with the pandemic, and are often ashamed to talk about it. She hopes the event will encourage discussion of shared experiences and be a place of mutual support and inspiration for women who are suffering.

“This is why we felt this was necessary,” she said. “Everybody in this room went through something, and it’s OK.”

Cheryl Barill with her work, "In the Pause."

In addition to the art exhibition, the event will feature a fashion show, poetry and personal stories from “PIPED” (“Power in Poetry Experience of Detroit”) and a reading from author Dorothy Jett Carter’s “Kente Cloth and Apricot Brandy, A Love Story.” Organizers will also pass out “SHINE” awards, celebrating women who display “strength, honor, integrity, nobility and excellence.” 

A silent auction will benefit several female-focused nonprofits, including Stoma, Rebirth, I Am With You, Bags to Butterflies, the William LaPratt Foundation and No Boys Allowed, that provide tools and resources supporting women experiencing hardship. 

The organizers said both women and men are welcome, and they would eventually like to turn “Out of the Darkness” into a non-profit and make the art exhibition an annual event. 

“I just want to show the power of women and that we’re strong and we’re together as one,” LaPratt said. “We can do anything, there’s nothing stopping us, ‘no’ is not our vocabulary.”

'Out of the Darkness'

When: 1-7 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Riverside, 8711 Grand River, Detroit

Tickets: or at the door. A $5 donation is encouraged.

Masks are required.