Mickalene Thomas

1971 | Camden, New Jersey, United States
Informations

American painter, photographer and visual artist.

While living and working in New York, Mickalene Thomas first studied painting at the Pratt Institute (1996-2000) and then at Yale School of Art (2000-2002). Her work, which draws on Western art history and pop culture in order to challenge stereotypes linked to the concept of femininity and the dominant canons of beauty, tackles issues of gender, race and sexuality. Her discovery of the work of Afro-American artist Carrie Mae Weems (born in 1953) in the 1990s significantly oriented the direction of her practice, not only confirming the desire to pursue her artistic studies but determining the focus of her research towards her personal experience as a Black Afro-descendant and lesbian woman.

M. Thomas paints and photographs Black women exclusively and in particular those close to her – her mother, friends and wife – together with artists and celebrities (Shinique Smith (born in 1971), Whitney Houston, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Cardi B., Solange, etc.), integrating them into her rhinestone, acrylic and enamel compositions, or into photographs and assorted patterned paper collages. In so doing, she turns her sisters in love and war into “mentors” and “muses”, to quote the title of her 2017 solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Although the women sometimes adopt lascivious poses, mirroring the frequently misogynist interpretation of the word “muse”, they are in no way relegated to positions of passivity or reified. On the contrary, they conjure up many famous paintings by 19th- and 20th-century artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and others. É. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) therefore morphs into Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe : les trois femmes noires [The luncheon on the grass: Three black women, 2010] and G. Courbet’s Le Sommeil (1866) becomes Sleep. Deux femmes noires (Sleep. Two Black women, 2012-2013). The models stare intently at their male and female viewers, defying the preponderant “male gaze”. Through these manifestations of “re-enactment”, M. Thomas is creating a new visual culture that is synonymous with empowerment, thereby breaking with a centuries-old history of excluding, stereotyped, misogynist, exoticising, racist representations.

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Manon Burg

Translated from French by Caroline Taylor.

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Hotter than July, 2005, acrylic, rhinestone and enamel on wooden panel, 152.4 x 182.9 cm, Rubbell Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Portraits of Quanikah, 2006, fifteen panels, acrylic, rhinestone and enamel on wooden panel, 178.8 x 320 cm, Rubbell Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Madame Mama Bush in Black and White, 2007, chromogenic photograph, printed in 2011, 47.6 x 59.7 cm, Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, I Still Love You (You Still Love Me), 2007, Acrylic, rhinestone and enamel on wooden panel, 182.9 x 152.4 cm, Rubell Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007, acrylic, enamel and rhinestones on wood panel, 274.3 x 365.8 cm, Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Mnonja, 2010, rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, 243.8 x 304.8 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Monet’s Salle a Manger Jaune, 2012, rhinestone, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel, 274.3 x 365.8 x 5.1 cm, Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Mickalene Thomas, Interior Monet’s Blue Foyer, 2012, rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on canvas on wood panel, 274.32 x 609.6 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery

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