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Mickalene Thomas’ Dazzling Collages Reclaim Black Women’s Bodies

Black Women in History

Mickalene Thomas’ Dazzling Collages Reclaim Black Women’s Bodies

By Isis Davis-Marks via

A four-part exhibition premiering this fall showcases the contemporary artist’s multimedia portrayals of Black femininity

Museums are rife with images of nude white women reclining on chaise lounges. Take Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538): The titular figure lies naked atop a wrinkled white sheet, offering viewers a sidelong glance and a slight smirk. Her left hand hides her crotch, while her right hovers above a bundle of roses. Another famous nude, Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), shows a model lounging on a couch while her Black servant brings her a bouquet of multicolored flowers.

Mickalene Thomas, a contemporary African American artist known for her stunning collages, is attempting to challenge these passive, racialized depictions by “portraying real women with their own unique history, beauty and background,” as she told Smithsonian magazine’s Tiffany Y. Ates in 2018. One of the artist’s recent collages, Jet Blue #25 (2021), epitomizes this philosophy: The piece uses blue acrylic paint, glimmering rhinestones and chalk pastel to…

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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What Does It Mean To Be “Black Butterfly Beautiful”

The image of the butterfly has come to define the many expressions of the feminine black consciousness and for a good reason. The butterfly is the perfect articulation of the exquisite beauty of nature. Whether tiny or large, brightly colored or more subdued, the butterfly’s allure is undeniable. Each one displays its own unique patterns and hues, and no one species outshines any other.

Similarly, there is no one ideal image of a black woman -- each is gorgeous in her right. All African-Americans share a glorious history of struggle and perseverance that has funneled into the modern black renaissance. And, like the graceful butterfly, the awakened black woman exemplifies the dazzling beauty of that cultural evolution.

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