Mickalene Thomas's vivid paintings, collages, and photographs explode off the wall. Their larger-than-life women stare back and down at the viewer, confronting them head on. Over the course of her prolific career, Thomas has created a body of work that expands notions of beauty, gender, sexuality, and race, offering a complex vision of what it means to be a Black woman.
In Femmes Noires, Thomas moves breezily between pop culture and the long history of Western and African art, inserting images of Black women into iconic paintings. At times she poses them nude; at other times, she draws on elements as diverse as 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women, Edouard Mamet's odalisque figures, the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé, and her own collection of personal portraits and staged scenes. Her ability to detect and contain contradictions and to wrestle with stereotypes translates into powerful, self-possessed depictions of Black women that confront and subvert stereotypes.
Femmes Noires is a bold examination of Thomas's work and her artistic practise at an important moment in history. It blends writing from iconic Black writers and essayists (Alice Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edwidge Danticat, and Lorraine O’Grady) with 120 reproductions from Thomas's oeuvre (collages, paintings, film stills, and photographs). Original essays by Andrea Andersson, visual arts curator of the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans; Julie Crooks, curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario; and writer-art critic Antwaun Sargent complete the book.
Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires accompanies an international touring exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Contemporary Art Centre in New Orleans. It will open at the AGO in late November 2018.
Julie Crooks is a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Pub date: April 2, 2019