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Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971)
Portrait of Marie Sitting in Black and White
Photogravure with chine-collé on paper
27 x 22 inches
Edition of 20. Published by Brodsky Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Collaborating Master Printers: Randy Hemminghaus

Mickalene Thomas

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Mickalene Thomas’s large body of work is entirely dedicated to portraying self-assured African American women, in standing or reclining postures that western art has reserved solely to representing white subjects, particularly as found in nineteenth-century French painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres or Gustave Courbet.  

Expanding upon that sanctioned notion of beauty, Thomas’s portraiture is set in brashly colored, rhinestone-encrusted, seductively finished surfaces, to represent her subjects as emancipated and sexualized individuals, in American domestic environments datable from the past fifty years.  

This black-and-white portrait is based on a series of large-size brown-toned Polaroids Thomas took in 2011, which use the same set and models, including one by the name of Marie. A Polaroid of this series is entitled “Courbet,” inspired by his famous painting Le Sommeil (Sleep)(1866), of two women embraced in bed, surrounded by textiles and enveloped in sheets.  The printed fabrics used by Thomas, instead, recall similar backgrounds in the black-and-white portraits photographer Seydou Keïta (1921–2001) took of his community in Mali, West Africa, from the 1940s and up to the 1960s.  In them, geometrically patterned African textiles in the background interplay with similarly decorated, sumptuously draped dresses of elegantly seated subjects. Marie’s straight naked body, with long legs ending in high-heel platform shoes, stands majestic and beautiful, audaciously reclaiming multiple traditions at once.