Face of Defense: Airman’s art provides therapy, explores ancestry

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(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Carter)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., July 06, 2016 — Air Force Master Sgt. Bahiya Wilder, the 60th Operations Support Squadron’s aircrew flight equipment quality assurance flight chief here, paints many canvasses with her creativity.

Her artistic side has inspired her 15-year military career as well as two paintings on display at the Solano Town Center Mall in Fairfield, California.

The paintings are part of the Fairfield-Suisun City Visual Arts Association’s “Geometry” exhibition, which includes the work of more than 40 artists from the community.

Acrylic Paintings

Wilder’s two pieces on display — “A Different Angle” and “Egypt” — are acrylic paintings on canvas, a medium she’s explored more in recent years after previously working in watercolor.

Both pieces are primarily black and white, each with a small area of the piece painted red, part of a distinct characteristic to mark the art as her work.

She has painted since she was a child and hosted solo exhibitions of her own, but the “Geometry” exhibit marks the first time Wilder has shown pieces in a professional setting.

Wilder, who hails from nearby Berkeley, California, said fitting the “Geometry” theme was something of a departure from her typical work, which tends toward African and abstract themes.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” she said. “I really liked it because it showed me my range — that I can do more than just one genre of art.”

Wilder said painting serves as a form of art therapy, but also as a way to explore her ancestry.

‘Reaching Back Through Art’

“Being an African-American and not really knowing my history — we were always taught that we were slaves and that’s it — I know there’s more to me than my ancestry being a slave,” she said. “I’m looking for what I haven’t been taught — who I am, where I come from. … I’m reaching back through art.”

“Egypt” ties Egyptians to African history and royalty, she said.

“That’s where I come from, kings and queens,” she said. “Not that my ancestors were slaves. I would like to believe that I come from [kings and queens]. “Egypt” is reflective of that.”

Using art as a vehicle to communicate with her heritage is important to Wilder, whose right forearm bears a tattoo of a paintbrush and a cowry shell. People on several continents, including Africa, historically used the shells as a form of currency.

While Wilder uses her art to explore her own past, she also uses it to inform and improve the Air Force’s present.

Using Creativity at Work

Wilder said she brings her artistic perspective to the job. And, she added, she is “constantly trying to change things” in order to improve her career field.

“My creativity has definitely helped me in the military,” Wilder said. “It gives me an opportunity to use analytic skills that I’ve been able to hone in on because our job is very attention-to-detail oriented [with the] life-saving equipment that we’re working on. Nowadays, innovation is something that leaders are looking for.”

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jerry Honeycutt, 60th OSS AFE superintendent, called Wilder “humble,” saying she has an ability to bring her artistic skills to bear in ways that benefit the Air Force.

“She takes great pride and ownership of each piece [of art], which directly translates to her work as an Air Force member,” he said. “[She] is that senior NCO who makes those around her want to be better at what they do. … She never brags about herself, what she knows or how well she knows it. She comes to work each day and accomplishes each task with extreme pride and professionalism.”

Wilder attended aircraft mechanic school in Oakland, California before enlisting, but wound up in life support systems with the 60th OSS. Along the way, she earned a bachelor’s degree in technical management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Next, Wilder is headed to Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility located in Aberdeen, Maryland, where she will be the Air Force aircrew chemical defense acquisitions manager.