Mickalene Thomas presents uncovered strength in Newcomb Art Museum
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A lecture by Mickalene Thomas, whose exhibit “Waiting on a Prime-Time Star” held its opening reception on Jan. 18, created an unprecedented turnout. Seats, floor space and the fringe along the stage of the Freeman Auditorium in Woldenberg Art Center were packed with community members waiting to listen to the highly sought-out artist.
Thomas creates art that explores and pushes the conventional boundaries that define a woman. Ideas commonly conveyed in her work revolve around femininity, beauty, race, sexuality and gender. Her work is inspired by a wide range of artists from different points in history. The style takes a new shape when it is applied to the symbols Thomas focuses on in much of her art: strength, tenacity and black female empowerment.
Her work is fractured, cohesive and bold. With loud colors and designs, Thomas’ art refuses to be silenced. It has a message that is conveyed through power. The signature composition of her work includes rhinestones, acrylic and enamel. With unconventional materials, she uses abstract expressionism, oftentimes to parallel classic work throughout art history, with the adjustment of the woman it captures.
In her talk preceding the opening reception, Thomas emphasized that this adjustment is deceiving. Thomas claimed in her lecture that many famous pieces and sketches by artists like Matisse and Monet used black women as models for centerpieces, painting them as white. As a result, the black women who are the centerpieces of Thomas’ work are a readjustment. They represent more of an unveiling and reinvigoration than an act of substitution. This resonance with past classics initiates “a discourse with artists from the past,” as Thomas considers it.
“The western art historical moments that I’m extracting as a source for my practice are not about reclaiming. It’s about acknowledging that the space was always ours–about owning that space,” Thomas said in an interview conducted by Assistant Professor of Art History Mia Bagneris. “When looking at history, art and cultural, we have to see ourselves in the story and rewrite the wrongs.”
While she explores different mediums of art such as photography, film, collage and installations, they are used more as pieces to a puzzle that is usually painted. With several mediums blended, her work captures reality and extravagance, offering a glimpse into the cooperation between the two.
In an introduction to Thomas’ public interview, her gallery was presented as a tribute to the legacy of Newcomb College. Her work, with its intentional sense of familiarity, empowers those whose strength is commonly undermined by societal norms.
“Waiting on a Prime-Time Star” will be on display in the Newcomb Art Museum until April 9.