A girl in a white shirt with abstract items behind her.

When Women Were Girls

West Gallery
April 15, 2023
May 21, 2023
Lissa Karpeh

Opening Reception: April 15, 5–7pm

In-person Artist Talk: April 26, 6:30pm. Free and open to the public. Please press here for the recording.

For ASL interpretation and/or other accommodations, please email nmwatson@stkate.edu by April 19.

This exhibition features portraits of Liberian women, from girlhood to adulthood, through the personas they take on as members of the diaspora in Minnesota. Liberians make up the second largest population of Africans in the state, and Lissa Karpeh’s work reflects on the impacts of war, western perceptions of the Black identity, and gender.


When Women Were Girls focuses on the days when women played and explored with ease, curiosity, and intentionality. For Liberian women, this is a familiar way to describe their girlhood through innocence and authenticity within their Liberian identity. Liberians are a unique group of people displaced while also being discovered.

The stories of Liberia are of joy, laughter, and the sorrow of resiliency. This exhibition is part of a more extensive series of works unraveling Liberia's identity through abstractions and figurations that speak on moments of belonging and double consciousness. The paintings in this show depict Liberian women in my community, family members of friends, and from my childhood. The colors within each piece further highlight the subjectivity of Liberian women in their prime, fullness, and what Liberians like to call the “Big Jue” season. The paintings in this exhibition invite the viewer to imagine themselves as children again with all their flaws, convictions, and history. And further, ask themselves which part of these moments shaped who they are today.


Lissa Karpeh is a Liberian-American artist whose large-scale, figural, richly colored oil and acrylic paintings are informed by her first-generation immigrant identity and her prior experience in the mental health field. Her work conceptually explores the permeable and dynamic dimensions of the self and the other as they relate to Black identifications and Western epistemic traditions.

Karpeh’s most recent solo exhibition, For the Love of Liberty, took place in 2021at Bockley Gallery. Additionally, her work has been featured in multiple group exhibitions for The Hive Salon, Burn Something Zine, LightBox Studio, Ridgewater College, i-D Magazine and Vanity Fair Magazine. Her work is collected by DIFFA Chicago and St. Cloud State University.

She is a member of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) and the founder of Free in Color, a non-profit that functions to make creative outlets and expression accessible for youth, women of color, and immigrant communities.