Taja Lindley Turns Her Artistic Eye to Black Maternal Mortality

By Ayana Byrd Apr 09, 2019

As public health officials and reproductive rights advocates continue to tackle the Black maternal mortality crisis, one artist is using her voice to help save the lives of Black women and babies.

Through a residency with the Public Artists in Residence program in New York City, Taja Lindley will be collaborating with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for a project on maternal mortality for pregnant Black women in the Bronx.

Lindley is a visual and performance artist based in Brooklyn, New York, and one of four people who will participate in the 2019 residency program. Now in its fourth year, the program links artists and public agencies to produce creative projects that center social issues. She will be working with the Tremont Neighborhood Health Action Center, which is located in the Bronx.

“People who are Black are met with skepticism, minimized and dismissed when they seek health care, and the voices of Black people can really shift medical practices and city practices, so I’ll really be centering those voices,” Lindley told The New York Times about her project, which will incorporate performance, film and storytelling.

Through the residency, Lindley will receive a $40,000 stipend. In addition, there is a three-month research phase to allow her to gather information before heading into the nine months allotted to produce her project. Prior to the residency, Lindley worked in reproductive health as a sexual and reproductive justice consultant with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, helping to create the program New York City Standards for Respectful Care at Birth.

As Colorlines has previously reported, Black mothers die at three to four times the rate of non-Latinx White mothers. Babies born to Black women have mortality rates that are twice those of infants born to non-Latinx White women.

In response to the crisis, today (April 9), Congressional Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.) launched a Black Maternal Health Caucus in coordination with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. It will work to raise awareness within Congress on the need to make Black maternal health—and policies aimed at bolstering it—a national priority.

Beyond the political backing needed to solve this problem, Lindley also believes artists can play a pivotal role. She told The Times, “As an artist-activist, you’re railing, you’re talking, you’re making work and hoping it has an impact, to have the ear of a space that can really make a difference from a systemic point of view. That’s really exciting.”