Artist: Mickalene Thomas
Work: Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, 2011 mixed media collage 23.75 x 31.25 inches (paper) 60.3 x 79.4 cm 31.25 x 39 inches (framed) 79.4 x 99.1 cm LM15222
In this piece Mickalene Thomas challenges not only how beauty is typically represented but she also challenges the heterosexual normative. Beautiful images of nature are cut, torn, and collaged over one another with a portrait of two African American women romantically embracing each other placed dead center. These women are clearly embracing each other romantically and their embrace showcases their bodies in such a natural state that would never be shown in mediums such as mainstream magazines. What I mean by this is their skin is folded, "fat" is shown, and they're not posed for beauty but they're posed to showcase their loving embrace. I truly believe that this piece is layered with meaning. At first glance you notice the clear juxtaposition between the surrounding collage and the women. For one, the collage has seams in varying places and the piece that includes the women has not one seam but the one that surrounds them in order to connect them to the rest of the collage. Another difference between the centerpiece and the rest of the collage is the very apparent use of color and detraction of color. While the background pieces of nature are vibrant with color, the women in the foreground are stripped of it. This clearly makes a statement about the importance of the two women being the focal point of the piece while the rest is set merely as a background. In this way, Mickalene begins to develop a relationship between the women and the rest of the piece which one could call nature or let it stand for the term “natural”. While the women are almost touching that which is natural and seem to have a very close relationship to it, they are still detached in some way. This speaks to the relationship that the LGBT community has to the rest of what one could deem “mainstream society.” While LGBT members are a part of the human race and often participate in the workforce, governments, politics, etc. they are still somehow kept apart by the ways in which “mainstream society” chooses to address them.
To delve even further into the work, both the women within the photograph are both African American. This puts these women into two categories that struggle within the social justice realm far more than someone who is not a minority or who doesn’t identify as a member of the LGBT society. I began to ask myself why this piece was so strong to me and how could it be recreated to target one specific group? While analyzing the piece I realized that the community that it subjected was a very specific one, mainly African American women within the LGBT community. How could I recreate this piece in order to get "participants to willingly engage in a dialogue from which they extract enough critical and experimental wealth to walk away feeling enriched, perhaps even claiming some ownership of the experience or ability to reproduce it with others."1
How would I recreate this piece so that it "is context bound and addresses real life problems?"2 I begin with the piece itself and the issues it represents. It represents the struggle and the unwilling detachment of African-American women that belong to the LGBT community from society. While Helguera describes artists that believe that targeting an audience before the piece actually detracts from the piece's freedom, in this case I need to seriously contemplate what community would be best to target. I want to target a community that African-American women within the LGBT realm are integrated within yet disconnected from. I wouldn't want to choose a community that does not normally encounter LGBT African-American women and on the other hand I would not want to choose a community in which LGBT African-American women are fully accepted either. So let's say that Community X exists and there's a lot of unacknowledged...
Bibliography: Helguera, Pablo. Education for socially engaged art: a materials and techniques
handbook. New York: Jorge Pinto Books, 2010.
Kindon, Sara, Rachel Pain, and Mike Kesby . Participatory Action Research. New York:
Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2007.
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