A Gift Discovered: Aaliyah Norfleet’s Life Portrait
By Sheryl E. Taylor
From the moment she arrived on campus as an incoming freshman, Aaliyah Norfleet knew what she wanted to pursue for her career to become what she wanted to be.
But the universe had bigger plans.
Fast forward to this Spring semester when she needed a three-hour course credit. So, she selected the ART 2303, Painting 1 course. By the way, she never painted before.
Ironically, a self-portrait changed the picture of her future, and it wasn’t a career in Marketing Communications.
“The passion that I put into my self-portrait (titled, ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’) was strongly related to my experiences during the semester,” Norfleet said. “The class really changed my viewpoint for artistry.” Even more so after her world-renowned professor of art, Floyd Newsum, expressed to her the brilliance of her technique and the importance of what she was creating. “I was like wait a minute,” she said. “If this person with all his experience and knowledge in the art world was telling me that my work was good, then maybe this is something that I should take seriously.”
Newsum considers Norfleet to be a special student because of her work ethic and desire to succeed. “She is willing to experience unknown territories that some students would consider forbidden fruit,” he said. “Aaliyah’s goal is not just to attempt but to perfect. She spends several hours beyond the structured class hours to refine and improve her craft. I believe Aaliyah will succeed in any endeavor because she doesn’t allow a glass ceiling to be placed in her way.”
Norfleet admits that it was an overwhelming experience. “I didn’t have any interest in this discipline, and it was confusing to think that maybe I should shift gears and go into art,” she said. “Or should I keep it as a hobby?”
Newsum encouraged Norfleet to apply for a spot in the 2022 Project Row Houses’ (PRH) Summer Studios Residency Program. The six-week program provided an opportunity for emerging artists to work on the PRH site to transform an art house into temporary studios and engage the community. Norfleet was one of eight college students selected who were tasked with “creating and exhibiting work that responds to, engages, and/or reflects the Third Ward Community.” (PRH Website)
Norfleet was selected to the PRH program. The native Houstonian was born and raised in the Third Ward. “I love to claim Third Ward as home. It’s my heart and where the driving force of my artistry comes from,” said the 21-year-old sophomore. “When I was chosen for the program, it confirmed that this was meant for me and that I had to pursue it further.”
Norfleet’s Project Row House titled, “Black Femininity thru The SZNS” served as a love letter to Black women to acknowledge and appreciate their contribution of beauty to the world. Images representing the four seasons held court in each corner of the shotgun-styled house.
“When I would visit museums, I never saw Black women nor Black people depicted at all,” she emphasized. “There’s a lot of traumas associated with Black life in the Black image and Black representation. I really wanted to change that representation with a more positive, accurate portrayal. We are a multifaceted people deserving of love, creativity, and life. I hope visitors walk away with the idea that Black women are beautiful and deserve respect,” she added. “I want to shine a light of positivity.”
Some things are meant to be. Thanks to her mother’s (a UHD alumna) consistent encouragement, Norfleet eventually selected UHD over the University of Houston. “I made so many meaningful connections here,” she said laughing. “She was so right.”
With a few more years before graduation, Norfleet is ready to take on the art journey that lies ahead. “I believe that there are forces that pull you in the right direction,” she said. “My advice for someone who is unsure about college is to put yourself in the space to receive the opportunities and blessings that will propel where you need to be.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.