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New Fishtown gallery spotlights women artists of color

Owner A'Driane Nieves says the new Tessera Arts Collective owes a debt to her great-grandmother, Addie B. Lily, who owned a North Philly candy shop.

A'Driane Nieves (aka Addye B), at her new gallery, Tessera Arts Collective.
A'Driane Nieves (aka Addye B), at her new gallery, Tessera Arts Collective.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

A new art gallery has opened in Fishtown that's dedicated to showing the works of female artists of color, and it draws its inspiration from a decades-before-her-time "maker" (and candy-shop owner) from North Philly.

A'Driane Nieves, founder of the Tessera Arts Collective at 2568 Frankford Ave., is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist, writer, speaker, and maternal mental health advocate known in the art world as Addye B.

Both her alias and her commitment to women of color pay homage to her great-grandmother, Addie B. Lily.

"She was a maker," Nieves says. "Every Easter, she made these large tissue flowers that people would buy. She owned a candy shop in the '40s and '50s in North Philly, and featured the art that family had made and helped the community find the resources that they need."

The collective is just up the street from Amalgam Comics, which has drawn attention and accolades as the first black-woman owned comic book store on the East Coast.

The "Tessera" in the gallery name refers to the Tessera Collective, a mental health group Nieves founded to educate women and girls of color about mental health, offer community and peer support, and encourage their creativity.

In artspeak, a tessera is one of the broken pieces of glass or other materials used to construct mosaics. "Nothing that's broken is disposable," Nieves says. "I want the name to give hope and change the stigma that having a mental health disorder means you are broken."

"I thought that the name fit beautifully for women of color," she says. "A friend suggested that I use it for the gallery."

Nieves crowdfunded $25,000 in two weeks to open the gallery. She is committed to showcasing promising female artists of color. Her first exhibition, on display through the end of the year, includes her own abstract work and two pieces by Symone Salib, known for her provocative political street art.

Nieves also carries slogan T-shirts by Eyrn Amel, youth books, and the Asian American Literary Review's Book of Curses, an art book and Lunar New Year advent calendar that calls out colonialism, partner abuse, the poaching of elephants, and other injustices.

Nieves hopes to exhibit other women of color whose work she follows on social media. "There are three that I'm really excited about," she says. "One is Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, who I knew as a teenager. I love Veronica Miller Jamison, who I've been following for a few years. Another one is @cosmicsomething on Instagram. Her work is bold and colorful, and all about speaking truth to power and living as a marginalized person."

The gallery is a reminder that "women of color artists in Philly exist, and are doing great work," she says.

Her gallery’s proximity to Amalgam “feels a little surreal, and good,” Nieves says. “It’s so affirming to know that it’s possible to create your own space and lane.”

Tessera Arts Collective, 2568 Frankford Ave., open noon-5 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, and weekdays by appointment,