Lorna Simpson: The Absence of Color

Portrait, 1988

The 1980s will go down in history as a time that American’s were finding their true voice. Women, LGBTQ, communities of color, and women across the nation were demanding to be heard amidst the bullhorns of Reaganomics and conservative politics. The now-famous -pop art style of the ’80s that was signature to artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat depicted the various social issues of the time visually captivating images that utilized repetition as a technique or drew viewers in with their bold color palettes. These artworks and the artists themselves were making bold statements about the world we live in and made us ask questions. Somewhat on the outskirts of the (pop)-ular Pop Art movement were many African-American photographers making art that dealt with the obstacles of navigating race, gender, and sexuality in America.

At the forefront of that effort was Brooklyn based artist Lorna Simpson. Her work, similar to Baltimore based artist, Zoe Charlton ‘s work deals with debunking stereotypes concerning black men and women. Where Charlton is masterful with her pencil art, Simpson uses black and white photography to deconstruct the images of black women in order to show their many layers. In the absence of flash or color, the viewer focuses on the moment in which the subject exists with pretense.

In doing so, Simpson concludes there is nothing more “magical” about a black woman than in any other woman. Yet by honing in her in this way with out overly pronounced bosoms and backsides, she was able to draw attention to the sensuality in the mundane that is her body. She too, like every other woman is that—a woman in her many facets.

The intimate image the artist captures is a sharp contrast to other artist that seek to explore the black woman in another way. For example, Kerry James Marshall’s untitled work Beach Towel displays a very vulnerable and seductive black woman on a beach towel in a backyard. Of course, we are also this representation as well. Or a revelation if you will. 

All of these images challenge the ongoing conversation of how black women and their image show up in the world. 
For more information on work by Lorna Simpson visit: lsimpsonstudio.com

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