Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry have worked and exhibited their work internationally. Through their large-scale public projects, performative sculpture, painting, photography, video, and self-portraiture, they explore complex issues revolving around marginalized members of society. They also challenge audiences to face issues of race and social justice in communities, history, and the family. Embedded within their work, whether it is of an historical, personal, or civic-based nature, is their ability to address the complicated and layered issues of race and power as a mixed-race artists collaborative.
Man with Dignity and Woman with Dignity are from Whitewash, a series of paintings that examines the history of race in the United States through the depiction of social injustice during the civil rights era. A striking combination of painting and photography, the artists’ distinctive process for this series was inspired by the concept of ‘whitewashing’ as a means of masking the truth. With an almost three-dimensional effect, these doubled images stand as a visual metaphor for the variety of ways that memory and history are both similar and different.
Lauren Kelley uses stop-motion animation to explore stereotypes of femininity and race. By using her voice to speak for a cast of black dolls, Kelley breathes life into plastic characters while poignantly and humorously addressing issues such as gender, womanhood, and the human condition. Whether telling stories of unplanned pregnancy or exploring the world of flight attendants, Kelley’s work introduces its viewers to a world in which dolls and puppets are caught in endless streams of consciousness and are trapped in a bizarre theater of the absurd.
In Big Gurl, Kelley uses a combination of Barbie™ dolls, Claymation, and stop animation to create a series of satirically comedic and outrageously humorous vignettes. While Barbie™, the popular mass-produced doll, is frequently referenced in popular culture, the artist brings a unique perspective to the doll’s iconic frame. In this work, Kelley alters the doll to create a variety of shades, shapes, and sizes to address the spectrum of black female physique as well as tackle the serious subjects of pregnancy, male chauvinism, self-image, intergenerational relationships, and class. Challenging the notion of physical imperfections, Kelley ultimately investigates the spaces, allotted and claimed, to explore ideas about female adolescence and womanhood.
Lauren Kelley, Big Gurl, is featured in tête-à-tête, a group exhibition in its seventh iteration curated by Mickalene Thomas. tête-à-tête is concurrently on view with Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities through May 20, 2017.
Myra Greene is a photographer and the 2016 – 17 Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Spelman College. The artist enjoys exploring photographic processes that engage issues about the body, memory, the absorption of culture, and the ever-shifting identity of African Americans. In 2013, Greene started experimenting with African fabrics as a material and pattern to explore her own relationship to culture through the deconstruction and reconstruction of textiles. Her current projects include creating protest quilts as a means to think about the act of sewing and art making as protest.
Character Recognition is a series of ambrotype self-portraits. The intimate portraits, character studies of sorts, tightly frame the artist’s face and, specifically, close-up views of her ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. By employing ambrotypes, which first came into use in the early 1850s, Greene deliberately recalls a medium that has been outmoded for more than a century.
On the series, Myra Greene explains:
Confronted with an upswell of bigotry both personal and public, I was forced to ask myself, what do people see when they look at me. Am I nothing but black? Is that skin tone enough to describe my nature and expectation in life? Do my strong teeth make me a strong worker? Does my character resonate louder than my skin tone? Using a photographic process linked to the times of ethnographic classification, I repeatedly explore my ethnic features in Character Recognition. The lessons learned are haunting and frightening in these modern times.
Sheila Pree Bright is an Atlanta-based, award-winning fine art photographer nationally known for her photographic series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, Suburbia, 1960 Who, and #1960Now. Bright is described as a “social cultural anthropologist” whose works combine a wide range of contemporary culture including photographic portrayals and provocative commentary on American beauty standards, urban and suburban themes, citizenship, and social movements.
Suburbia is a nuanced and self-reflective meditation on race and class in the suburbs that focuses exclusively on the homes of African Americans. This body of work disrupts the American media’s projection of the “typical” African American community and depicts a more realistic and common ideology of African American life. Suburbia also examines the variations and similarities of an existence that subverts lifestyle and culture, particularly as it relates to Americanism. In 2006 Bright won the Santa Fe Prize from the Santa Fe Center for Photography for this extensive series.
Sheila Pree Bright is currently documenting the protests and youth leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement in the series #1960Now and is incorporating the moving image and archival materials.
Beverly Buchanan began creating her shack sculptures in the mid-1980s while living and working in Macon, Georgia. While she made large-scale abstract paintings and land art in her early career, she is widely recognized for her sculptures of shacks made from media such as wood, tin, cardboard, foam core, and other materials. As a young girl, Buchanan accompanied her great-uncle, Walter Buchanan, the Dean at the School of Agriculture at South Carolina State University, as he traveled throughout rural South Carolina. Her shacks, which are clearly informed by the tenant farmers she met, exemplify the creativity and ingenuity that is often a hallmark of southern vernacular architecture.
Like many of her other shacks, Untitled, Red Ladder (1995), an evocative rendition of a shotgun house, draws from her childhood recollections and experiences. While they capture the dwellings she saw, they also explore the historic legacy of slavery and racism in America and exemplify her lifelong investigation of gender, class, inequality, and social and economic injustice. Through works such as this that highlight some of the most vulnerable, forgotten communities of the rural South, Buchanan brings the complex relationships between commemoration, social justice, and marginalization into a critical context.
Jacob Lawrence is one of the most prolific American artists of the twentieth century. As a painter, storyteller, and educator, he was among the first African American artists to be represented by a New York gallery, have his work featured in prominent art museums, and consistently receive recognition. His work is in the permanent collections of art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Lawrence is known for his epic series that celebrate and chronicle the lives of everyday people to game changing historical figures and pivotal events in the history of the African diaspora. The extensive series of visual narratives include the Harriet Tubman series (1938 – 1940), The Migration of the Negro (1940 – 1941), The Builders (1947), The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1986 – 1997), among others. He is acclaimed for an unparalleled modernist painting style, depicting his figures in geometric shapes and dynamic poses that he rendered in bold, contrasting primary colors.
Sparked by media images from civil rights events in the South, Lawrence created works that explicitly commented on racial injustice. In Praying Ministers, (1962), Lawrence captures a poignant moment in the civil rights movement. A group of interracial and interfaith clergy members gather in prayer flanked by two police officers dressed in riot gear. Lawrence emphasizes their somber resignation and despair by rendering the ministers’ kneeling bodies in dramatic contrasts of light and dark murky colors, with bowed heads and exaggerated, clasped hands. An assembly of protestors in the background sets and amplifies the tone for the urgency of the moment.
As the United States continues to grapple with racism and ongoing systems of oppression, Praying Ministers, unfortunately, is as timely then as it is now. This powerful work, and the entirety of Lawrence’s sixty year career, serve not only as reminders of his involvement in using art as activism, but also as meditations on the African American experience and the quest for freedom, equality, and dignity. Praying Ministers is currently on extended loan and featured in the exhibition Visual Art and the American Experience at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Toyin Ojih Odutola creates intimate drawings that explore the complexity of identity as it relates to her personal journey of having been born in Nigeria then moving and assimilating into American culture particularly in conservative Alabama. The artist renders life-size paintings in charcoal, pastel, and pencil and employs a distinctive style of intricate mark-making. Her lush compositions expand and turn the genre of portraiture on its head. Her subjects have a mysterious quality and are set against decadent environments of domesticity and leisure. The shifting of context is an important motif throughout her work, representing the impermanence and precarity of “home” as an emotional and physical sense of belonging.
LTS (or Like the Sea,) 2013 – 2014 is a series of large-scale, mixed media drawings portraying the artist’s two younger brothers. The artist explains:
I was interested in creating a narrative that was ambiguous to any sort of over-arching, direct definition, while emphasizing this idea of creating these drawings as, in and of itself, an act of love. For me the theme of ‘love’ in this series is two-fold: it is in the idea of shifting changes as well as in act of doing. It can change, but the beauty of it is when it is consistently present even when everything else feels uncertain.”
The subjects are surrounded by a variety of tapestried landscapes indicative of the diverse locales in which the siblings have resided. Delving into ideas of presence, placement, a feeling contentment and complacency in oneself, while expressing the personal attachment for her brothers, the series exemplifies themes simultaneously within the realms of the intimate and the universal. The series titles is inspired by an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different from every shore.”
Marcia Kure creates drawings, photomontages, and sculptures that explore alternative worlds as a response to colonialism. She has garnered significant attention for her paintings and drawings that are made of the brownish pigment of kola nuts and watercolor.
LDIMEDILLIGAF, LBR and LGR, and The Conformist, are all from Kure’s series Fashionable Hybrids. She explained:
The Fashionable Hybrids series evolved from my Dressed Up series (2009 – 2010), which examined the different bodies and fashion associate with Hip Hop and Victorian/contemporary haute couture—the two modes of dress and the social worlds they invoke in order to dismantle the usual cultural and social boundaries cloth imposes on bodies, and to challenge the ways human beings are defined by what they where. The Fashionable Hybrids series goes even further. In the Fashionable Hybrids series uses visual elements from Disney cartoons, Japanese Anime and Manga, medieval fashion, militaries outfits, and contemporary couture fashion collide with pictorial forms inspired by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Roy Lichtenstein, Jan Vermeer, Gustav Klimt, Dominique Ingres, and Edouard Manet. The resulting figures, revel in their hybridity, as if they are proud avatars of extreme fashion.
Kure is a member of the Nsukka School of the University of Nigeria. Members of the school are influenced by ancient cave drawings in southern Africa and uli. Uli is a painting and drawing tradition incorporating simple forms and minimal use of color, which was once solely practiced by the Igbo women of eastern Nigeria. The solitary, amorphous, surreal yet commanding figures she creates—often adorned in highly inventive attire—explore a host of subjects including glamour, aggression, violence, female authority, identify, and beauty.
Berni Searle is a South African artist who is renowned for her impressive body of work that employs video, photography, and various other media, including found objects and her body to evocatively communicate trauma, loss, identity, history, agency, and hope.
Lament is a series of six photographs that Searle created as a companion to Interlaced (2011), the three-screen video installation, which was presented in a Gothic Chamber in the Town Hall of Bruges, Belgium. The city was once an important international center for trade and commerce that experienced significant decline by the 1800s. The Town Hall was renovated during Leopold II’s tenure as king. His rule also oversaw the ruthless plunder and brutal colonialism of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although lace has been associated with the cultural heritage of Belgium since the 15th century, in Interlaced and the Lament series, Searle intentionally dons black lace that she purchased in South Africa. The gilded hands in the works recall the severed hands and “occasional foot” that the European soldiers were required to provide as evidence and accountability for the use of their bullets.
Lament and Interlaced—Searle’s interventions in the Town Hall—are rituals that reckon with the city’s imperialist history. In her discussion about Interlaced, Julie L. McGee explained that the artist “alternately becomes and then transgresses personifications of the Virgin Mary, a Bruggeling (citizen of Bruges), a veiled Muslim woman, a mystic. Searle interrupts the ceremonial performance of the Gothic Chamber with her own rites, and a space of orchestrated histories and municipal governance becomes witness to Searle’s civic protest.”
For over three decades, through image, text, film, and video, artist Carrie Mae Weems has created an impactful body of work that interrogates race, gender, class, politics, and power. Weems, a Prix de Rome and MacArthur Fellowship winner, asks salient relevant questions and examines our collective past.
When & Where I Enter, The British Museum is part of Weems’ Museums series in which the artist uses her body and buildings as an index of biased histories of past and present. Through self-portraiture, Weems addresses the complexities of race and gender, bearing witness to systemic social injustice and inequity that are the basis for museum decolonization activism.
Standing regally before the Museum entrance cloaked in an ethereal black dress with a swath of blurred, white tourists between them, she embodies the exclusion of blackness. The ambiguity and anonymity of her body viewed from the back is symbolic of the inherent implications of predominantly white institutions like The British Museum that see her as an outlier and her work as other. The use of “I” in the title is decidedly a “We” encompassing the whole of the African diaspora. When & Where I Enter, The British Museum depicts a nuanced narrative asking us to rethink who wields ultimate power over how individuals and their identities are depicted in museums.
María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a Nashville-based artist who grew up in Matanzas, Cuba in a family with Nigerian, Spanish, and Chinese lineage. Through her installations, painting, photography, performance, and video, she explores dislocation, femininity, identity, longing, and spirituality. Campos-Pons is the Vanderbilt Cornelius Endowed Chair of Fine Arts Drawing, Performance, and Installation at Vanderbilt University.
The Museum of Modern Art presented Campos-Pons’ evocative multimedia installation Spoken Softly with Mama in 1998. It was then featured in Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art acquired the second version, Spoken Softly with Mama II, in 2011 in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Both iterations evoke Campos-Pons’ mother and three generations of her matrilineage. Incorporating video projections, stylized ironing boards, and pâte de verre (a decorative glass made in a mold) irons, the artist conjures the intimate presence of female relatives, time-consuming domestic chores, and their shared experience of laboring over items that they could not afford. Curator Sally Berger described Spoken Softly with Mama as an installation in which Campos-Pons exchanged the ordinary materials that the women used for “fine wood, glass, and translucent fabric to signify the transcendence of their endeavors and the innate fragility of human relationships.” Spoken Softly with Mama II is an affirmation of resilience, strength, inspiration, affirmation, and joy.
ROZEAL, formerly known as iona rozeal brown is a D.C. based contemporary artist and DJ who fuses Japanese imagery and hip-hop culture in her large-scale acrylic paintings. Brown created the series “ a3” an acronym for “afro-asiatic allegory” to interrogate issues surrounding authenticity and culture in the face of globalization.
“I felt stung,” brown recalls of her time in Japan and encounters with the Japanese blackface tradition of ganguro. “They were imitating me—a black person—in a way that was neither flattering nor historically sensitive.” Not only did the people darken their skin, they permed their hair to achieve textured afros and donned the latest hip hop fashion. To them it is costuming, but brown’s work complicates the ganguro tradition to analyze the history of visual representations of blackness, specifically Black women.
Her large scale acrylic painting appropriate Japanese ukiyo-e printmaking and the contemporary world of hip-hop. In a3 blackface #65, brown depicts a crouched woman draped in a kimono. She evokes the luminosity of hip hop culture through the addition of highly-embellished shoes and a silver necklace that the woman delicately holds in her hands. In this work, blackness becomes a costume as the woman’s porcelain skin remains visible around the perimeter of her face. a3 blackface #65 underscores the global fascination with blackness and hip-hop culture and explores the complexities of appropriating blackness.