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Bold portraits of Black women

September 11th, 2018

Collage painting with three women seated

Mickalene Thomas, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires, 2010. Rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, 304.8 x 731.5 cm. The Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection © Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Black women in Mickalene Thomas’s art demand to be seen. See for yourself this November when the AGO presents the celebrated artist’s first Canadian solo exhibition.

Thomas’s portraits of celebrities, including Diana Ross and Diahann Carroll, as well as friends, former lovers, figures from art history and the artist herself, spark urgent questions about race and how Black women’s bodies are represented.

Filling Level 5 of the AGO’s Vivian & David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art, Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, will include collage paintings, a video installation, photography and several living room tableaux.

“For Canadians, this exhibition offers not only an introduction to Thomas’s work, but an opportunity to see how contemporary art can effectively disrupt stereotypes in Western art history and challenge notions of beauty in popular culture,” says Julie Crooks, the AGO’s Assistant Curator, Photography.

For an example, look at Thomas’s monumental painting Le dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires (2009). This powerful work, which we can’t wait to see in the AGO exhibition, recasts Édouard Manet’s iconic 1863 portrait. Manet’s work includes two white female subjects who are nude. In contrast, Thomas’s version features a trio of confident Black women who wear fashionable outfits, glamourous makeup and fabulous coiffures, in a vibrant collage of saturated colours, rhinestones and fragmented shapes. Both a cheeky homage and a searing critique of Manet’s work, the billboard-sized painting highlights issues of race and gender in art history.

Stay tuned for more details about this bold and exciting exhibition.

Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in partnership with the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. It opens November 29 at the AGO, and it is free with General Admission.

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