The summer exhibition, Silhouettes: A Love Supreme, at the Elijah Pierce Gallery in the King Arts Complex in Columbus, OH, had a mission: to gather artwork showing positive alternatives to media tendencies that too often cast black women as one-dimensional sex objects.
Artist-curator David Butler selected approximately 30 pieces by 19 Columbus area artists whose works ranged from abstract to figurative. Some artists sung the praises of individual black women; others suggested we look below the surface for their virtues, while still others looked critically at society’s treatment of black women.
In Eric Jefferson’s oil painting, A Tribute to My Wife, Renee Dion, the artist rendered her face in profile and full shadow, illuminating only the outer edges to create a sense of it being lit from a hidden source within. Enigmatic and provocative, Komikka Patton’s Societal Love Story, a distorted portrait of a young black woman from whose face grows various forms of fungi, challenges us not to be thrown off by tattoos, modes of dress or what we see on the surface of one’s skin.
More directly polemic in style was David Butler’s World Without the Gaze on Man, a huge paper mural showing black women slyly seducing or preying on men. It comments mockingly on posters of films that exploit just such roles. Butler drives home his barbs with paint-smeared and hastily-fashioned strips of paper captioning the women’s sexually-driven lives. Richard Duarte Brown in his mixed media work Grandma’s Fence puts black female self-awareness in an historical context based on his own family. A photo taken in the early 1960s of Brown’s aunt and his young cousins holding white dolls is pasted on a painting of a stylized fence. Real-life dolls placed within frames with faces painted black and wearing traditional African clothes sprout from the center and sides of the work, exuberantly exclaiming black cultural self-awareness and pride.
In addition to raising awareness about media stereotypes of black women, this exhibition testified on the depth and complexity of black women as a subject in both art and life; and true to its title, Black Femininity: Beyond the Media Image also visualized the attributes that friends and families treasure most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From time to time, Arthopper.org publishes on exhibitions that have already concluded. In this sense, our site functions much like an archive might; we produce a cache of stories about shows and events whose presence we hope to extend and lengthen, however slightly, even after the work is packed up and out of view.