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
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.
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.
- Kerry James Marshall: Mastry–
- Short In this painting, a woman painter holds a paint palette in front of a paint-by-numbers portrait. Her skin is as black as the as the solid black background; she stares confidently into our eyes.
- Long This painted portrait depicts a young woman with jet-black skin holding a long, thin paintbrush up to a colorful, messy painter’s palette. She is shown in a three-quarter pose, gazing directly at the viewer. Her face, which is central to the square composition, stands out against a large, white, canvas, almost blending into the pitch-black background to her right. Closer inspection reveals, however, that her skin is subtly rendered, with various shades of contours and highlights. She wears two large hoop earrings, three small hoop earrings, and an oversized, boxy, high-collared jacket made of stiff fabric. Her voluminous hair—black with an ochre sheen—rises in thick coils on top of her head. The canvas to her left shows a partly finished paint-by-number self-portrait; in it, her likeness is broken up into smaller segments with pale-blue outlines and numbers. She has outlined many of the segments and filled them in with colors from her palette: orange, blue, yellow, pink, brown, and a few shades of green. The paint-by-number canvas does not accurately represent the color and pattern of the jacket she wears, which features mustard yellow sleeves and collar and deep blue and maroon and light yellow stripes.
- MCA Talk:
ASL Tour of Kerry James Marshall–TalksFree (with admission)
- Short A female tour guide gestures to her left in front of several onlookers.