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Exploring Blackness Beyond Borders: Aalyiah Heath's Artistic Journey from Detroit to Paris


Aalyiah Heath is many things. First and foremost, she’s a writer, mixed media graphic designer, photographer, and AUP alumni proudly based in Paris. Heath is also an entrepreneur. She founded and leads POPOUT, an independent art magazine that has recently expanded into a full multimedia creative collective. And she is a creative visionary, on a mission to uplift others through art and community and unlock individual and collective potential.

This month, Heath and the POPOUT team have woven many of these threads into an exhibit at AUP’s Fine Arts Gallery, the University’s first in honor of Black History Month, called “An Ode to Blackness...Everywhere.” The show explores questions of identity and celebrates the beauty, power and diversity of Black culture across the globe.

“This exhibition continues my journey with AUP,” says Heath, who first launched POPOUT–an acronym for Pursuit of Purpose–as her master’s thesis. Creating a magazine was a departure from the typical capstone paper, but her mentors, including fashion professor Madeleine Czigler and Dean of Student Development Kevin Fore, championed the idea. “They believed in what I was doing and were very supportive of my career goals.” The first print edition featured a spectrum of artists exploring the theme of identity. “It was about using my life story to have this conversation with other people. Just trying to figure out the things that we go through as humans and creatives. And still to this day, it's really a movement.”

Originally from Detroit, Heath earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion at Clark Atlanta University, which sparked her inquiry into identity. “You have this one idea of humanity, and then you move outside where you're from and see the world open up. Attending a Historically Black College did that for me, seeing the diverse blackness in the U.S.”

Moving to Paris was even more transformative. As a graduate student in Global Communications at AUP she relished the city’s artistic environment and was most inspired by her conversations with people of different black diasporas.

“We have different histories. I'm an American Black woman, and all the music and art that happened in New York during the Harlem Renaissance and Detroit, for Motown music, shaped a lot of black culture and culture in general. Then you meet someone from Togo, and they have a completely different understanding or experience of being a black person.”

Heath wanted to talk about this more–and the opportunity presented itself. “An Ode to Blackness...Everywhere” explores her experience of moving to Paris and asking herself:

what does it mean to be black?  “I want people to see other parts of blackness, not just America or Africa. There’s so much more context. And I want people to get the context. The world may see ethnicities in this one way, but the world isn't like that. It's a tapestry of beauty.”

The exhibit features painters, photographers, and writers worldwide, from Cameroon to Springfield, Massachusetts to Fort-de-France, Martinique. Heath is collaborating with SoulFood–an organization that helps migrant youth in Paris build art skills, and whose name evokes black culture–to showcase immigrant artists across the globe. As Heath says, “it's not just about the pieces shown. It's about the artists who create it.” She passionately believes that “artists are the storytellers of our time,” and considers supporting them central to her philosophy and to the richness of the dialogue. “The story lies, of course, in their artwork. But the story of the story lies in the artists. I'm excited for people to experience that.”