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Mickalene Thomas, the pop feminist who gives visibility to black women


What does a powerful woman look like? To artist Mickalene Thomas, 50, who exhibits her sophisticated paintings and collages simultaneously in the Nathalie Obadia and Lévy Gorvy galleries in Paris. This black lesbian and proud of it is like her works questioning the canons of beauty. Imperial, with its meter eighty unfolded, insensitive to what will be said.

Golden yellow cap screwed on her dreadlocks, she apologizes for nothing. Nor to love ornament, which modernity has endeavored to purge and which a whole section of art still holds in horror. Nor to cope with luxury – she reinterpreted the Lady Dior bag, customized a Rolls-Royce for a charity gala. So many spheres where, with a few rare exceptions, the presence of blacks has long remained ultra-minority.

For fifteen years, this pop feminist has endeavored to restore visibility to black women whom the history of art has often reduced to the secondary role of servant or prostitute, a figure of pleasure, entertainment or servitude. She relishes every little step forward, salutes the pantheonization of singer Joséphine Baker, whom she admires, the rise of her African-American colleagues in the world of museums.

Strong women

What does it matter if his own career only took off in 2012, at the age of 40. Later than other black artists of his generation such as the British Chris Ofili or the American Kara Walker. Well after many white designers. “I don’t need to pose as a victim to move forward, everyone has their problems, everyone has their way”, answers the marathon runner, with the quiet strength of one who has not inherited rage.

To listen to him, Mickalene Thomas would have no merit: this native of New Jersey comes from a line of resilient women. Her grandmother, who raised her from the age of 10 to 17, was not fooled. Her mother, a former model, was on drugs, but her magnetism was such that “Without opening her mouth she drew a whole court around her”. As a child, she adored her. As an adult, in 2012 she devoted a tender documentary to him, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman.

Like her mother, the heroines of Mickalene Thomas leave nothing to glimpse of their dramas or difficulties. Adorned with rhinestones, sequins and flamboyant prints, they are heirs to blaxploitation, these B-series films where badass proud of their advantageous plastic, they got rid of the marlous in their neighborhoods.

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