Profile: Clarissa T. Sligh (1939-)

Clarissa T. Sligh is an African-American book artist and photographer based in Asheville, North Carolina. At age 15, she was the lead plaintiff in a school desegregation case in Virginia. In 1988, she became a co-founder of Coast-to-Coast: A Women of Color National Artists’ Project, which focused on promoting works completed by women of color.

Early life and education

Sligh was born in Washington, D.C. She grew up in a large working-class family and “went to segregated schools in a predominantly white Virginia county.” In 1955, at the age of 15, she was the lead plaintiff in a school desegregation case in Virginia (Thompson v County School Board of Arlington County).

Sligh attended the traditionally African-American Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1961. In 1972, she received a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts from Howard University in Washington DC, and in 1973, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1999, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts from Howard University.


Before working as an artist, Sligh had a job at NASA where she worked in the manned space flight program.

Field of work

Sligh’s photographs and artist books center on politics, family life, questions of identity and personal experience.

According to Carla Williams, Sligh’s work reflects on our perceptions of normality and our roles in different frameworks such as family, society, gender, and ethnic groups. As Williams says, “In school readers from her childhood, Sligh discovered the model from which to confront the realities of her own life.”

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