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.