Mickalene Thomas I: Black Women’s Environments

After having the kind of week that presents no seeming ending, I decided I would inaugurate the new week with Mickalene Thomas who is showing her Origin of the Universe at the Brooklyn Museum, just a 20 minute walk from my home.

I have been increasingly drawn to Thomas’s work and the way that she uses black female models.  She creates an entire setting for them, one that she intentionally creates to empower them.  And though Thomas seems to, forever and a day, be compared to Andy Warhol, she is not showing/resuscitating victimized white celebrities in the way that he did.  Instead, she  is always visually empowering everyday black women in a whole new world that she creates specifically for them.  For me, that difference, her difference, makes all the difference in the world.

In my most, immediate, everyday connection to Thomas’s wisdom and vision, I think about my own home and hope to see it as a space to think through/make black, female, visual spaces as a cocoon of and for black female power (see the collage of images of where I sit/read/meditate below— the collage also links to an interview with Thomas).  Thomas seems to make that kind of process/thinking central to her work.

But what Thomas especially makes me realize is that the creation of the kind of environments where black women can realize themselves must take the very notion of environment as space-language-rhetoric so much deeper.  There is a kind of everyday, material practice that her work evokes for me.

Thomas is not just using the right words of what it might mean to empower, see, and hear black women, she is actively doing it with her hands and every movement.  And for that reason, yes, I think she is creating a world, not just a formulaic code/string of words and good intentions.  It is exactly what black women need and deserve.

So, today, Thomas’s work seems the perfect way to let the old week go and the new one begin!

(This post is followed up in the next post with an attempt to reflect on the weight of experiencing Thomas’s full exhibit.)