In her captivating new exhibition at the Sonja Hayes Stone Center, artist Amy Sherald makes a stand against racial discrimination through imaginative and colorful portraits of family members and fictional characters.
A calm, reserved speaker, Sherald explained her work to a small audience at the opening of her retrospective exhibition, “The Magical Real-ism of Amy Sherald” Thursday evening.
She called for “the transcendence of freedom that comes with being an American” — rather than being a member of a particular ethnicity — as she explored the personal identity crafted through the paintings on display.
The exhibition, which features almost a dozen portraits in vivid colors, centers mainly on friends and family from Sherald’s life. It was difficult to find models outside of her friendship group, she said on Thursday.
Sherald grew up in southern Georgia, and now lives in Maryland. Her work juxtaposes the world she lives in today and the prejudiced world from which her family came.
The work is thoughtful, personal and intriguing. A noticeable feature of her work is the use of masking. Her paintings prominently mask the face and body in costume-style clothing, a symbol of the way in which life can be viewed an act for minority groups in society.
One work — “The fairest of the not so fair”, which shows a black girl uncomfortably dressed in a debutante ball dress and wearing a feather mask — was particularly powerful. The image, taken from the artist’s personal memory, reflects an absence of self-perception at a time when the subject was on public display.
The exhibition is eye catching. Along with the elaborate clothing and masking, her figures have grey skin.
Conscious of her “yellow” skin and long hair, Sherald once shaved off her hair, she said. A dash of her strong personality and humor comes through in almost every painting.
Sherald’s said that she hopes to be able to stop living her life reacting to racial encounters, while still noting the unrealistic value of this wish.
She claimed she wants to just be black —“Black as an adjective, not a verb,” Sherald said.
Highly personal but ultimately accessible, the exhibition takes on a difficult subject matter with simple, direct poignancy.
“The Magical Real-ism of Amy Sherald” will be on display in the Robert and Sallie Brown Gallery in the Sonja Hayes Stone Center through April 22. Admission is free. The gallery is open 10 a.m. though 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. See the Stone Center’s website here for more information.
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