Dominique Butler’s art is a reflection of who she is, of her multiracial identity and connection to nature.
Butler, 26, is an artist who lives in the Reservoir Hill area. She grew up in northern Vermont, near the Canadian border, where she spent a lot of time outdoors. She has a bachelor’s of art in drawing, painting and art history from Drew University in New Jersey and moved to Baltimore for an art program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Butler is a member of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl.
Her next exhibition will be next month at the Hamilton Arts Collective, where she and other artists will showcase pieces created during the pandemic.
What was your experience with Judaism growing up?
I really had very minimal experience. My whole thing is that I did convert. Actually, I very recently completed my two-year conversion this past November.
I only learned a bit. I took a few Holocaust studies courses in high school, and there was always something that resonated with me there, and I didn’t really know how to articulate it. When I went to undergrad, I started becoming involved with Hillel. I made a lot of friends who were practicing Jews and I then began to take a lot more Jewish studies courses in undergrad, but I’d never met another Black Jew before, so I honestly didn’t really think I could pursue my interest much further. But when I came to Baltimore, a friend introduced me to Rabbi Ariana Katz with Hinenu, and it was just a perfect fit for me. I spent a year just becoming involved with the group and going to services and after that year I decided to start my conversion with Ariana.
Do you feel like there’s any overlap between your art and your Jewish identity?
It’s starting to overlap a bit, especially now as I’ve been helping out Hinenu with designing some flyers and some visual things that they have needed. I’m still trying to find a connection. For me, talking about nature is my thing. With my conversion, I actually focused on learning about symbols within Judaism that connected to nature and natural elements. I think that’s where the overlap is, but I’m hoping as time moves on, there will be more overlap, and I’m really hoping to start brainstorming a series of works based on my Jewish identity and my journey within Judaism.
Can you tell me more about your art and your focus on the environment?
A lot of it is a lot of self-reflection. Growing up in northern Vermont, which is extremely white dominated, and being a multiracial person, I guess I had a very different experience as a Black person, learning to hike, learning to fish, camping all the time. I didn’t realize that I had that privilege until I came to Baltimore. That’s when I started thinking and talking to people about why doesn’t that show up more often in more urban settings, why are Black people specifically a little less interested in hiking or camping or things like that. That’s really where my work comes into play, just talking about the disconnect between Black individuals and the great outdoors, why is there no representation in these spaces and national parks and things like that.
How did your family and your upbringing in Vermont shape you?
My family are really outdoorsy people. A lot of them live off the grid, just very reliant on nature, big hunters, so I was always around that kind of environment. I really give thanks to my grandfather. He’s Native American, and so he really taught me a lot about how to treat animals and give respect to the environment. It’s something that really shaped me and my connection to nature and just how passionate I am about being outdoors.