Kerry James Marshall: Self-Satisfied

Kerry James Marshall discusses the lack of self-satisfied black figures throughout the history of art and the importance of filling this void with paintings of confident black figures who are not defined by trauma.

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Kerry James Marshall discusses the lack of self-satisfied black figures throughout the history of art and the importance of filling this void with paintings of confident black figures who are not defined by trauma.


  • Locate for me somewhere in the history of painting
  • an image of a black person that is self-satisfied
  • and at the point in which they are indifferent
  • to the perception of the spectator.

  • To me, those are important things to represent
  • for a black figure.
  • Because we don’t think of black figures
  • being self-satisfied.
  • Because the narrative of black presence
  • is almost always traumatized.

  • Witness the Laquan McDonald video
  • or the Eric Garner video
  • or the Rodney King video—all those.
  • It’s like that whole history of representation
  • going all the way back even to
  • the Without Sanctuary exhibition—I don’t know
  • if you’ve seen that—but the whole history of
  • lynchings and postcard images of lynching
  • and stuff like that.

  • So we’re used to representations of the black body
  • as a kind of traumatized body in one way or another.

  • What we’re rarely used to is the
  • image of the black figure as a self-satisfied individual.
  • So that’s what the painting The Woman in the Mirror is.
  • Without all of the clothes and things that
  • you dress yourself up with
  • and you make yourself presentable to other people.

  • When you present yourself to yourself,
  • are you satisfied with that self?
  • I mean that’s a part of what that picture
  • wants to suggest.

  • The girl on the blanket,
  • she’s there with the apparatus
  • of photographic representation around her.
  • She’s presented herself to be
  • made into the image of desire.

    [laughs]

  • I’ll tell you, the man that cuts the grass
  • here at the studio, he came and he saw that painting
  • and he said, “Oh man, she is so cute."
  • He said, "she’s talking to me."
  • And I thought that was a beautiful response.
  • And that’s what I wanted somebody to be able to say
  • about a picture like that.