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  • Written by Anna Johnson


Los Angeles art museum The Broad is welcoming an intimate celebration of Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas this summer. Its message is clear: Despite oppressive Western beauty standards encouraging division and dominance, a rhinestone studded spotlight is shone on the healing properties of love.


Inspired by feminist author bell hooks, Mickalene Thomas: All About Love encourages viewing love as an ongoing process of healing as an alternative to dominance. The author’s theory argues that the patriarchy convinces men to believe that the domination of women is beneficial when it is not. Thomas’ reversal of historical Western beauty standards prompts a desire away from domination and towards a more collaborative, free society.


The exhibition will span from Thomas’ earlier works such as Lounging, Standing, Looking (2003), depicting her own mother exploring nurture and care, to Portrait of Maya no. 10 which stands layered, powerful and sparkling in rhinestones at eight feet tall.


In the artist’s works, she seeks to empower and uplift women whose beauty is often overlooked. She often restages scenes from 19th century French painters such as Edouard Manet and Henri Matisse, putting black women in the forefront. Thomas told TODAY that “when you look at these sort of iconic images, the black body was always in servitude positions [sic], that’s not how I see myself.” While the gaze prompted by these original paintings suggested a sense of ownership over the female body and its beauty, Thomas turns this on its head, encouraging us to collaborate with what we are seeing.


Her first major international tour will exhibit 80 of her pieces created over the last 20 years. Thomas’ work combines abstract and figuration using an eclectic mix of materials with a touch of sparkle using her signature rhinestone, which represents the intricate, sometimes complex nature of femininity. She told Hanna Silver for Wallpaper; “I enjoy rebuilding and the essential peeling back of layers to get to the core of my ideas. Collage does this for me.” This sense of pushing the physical boundaries of artistic materials and peeling back layers glimmers through in the naked forms of the women. In displaying their nudity, it should suggest a sense of vulnerability, but it actually leaves the viewer with a sense of unapologetic liberation in the strong and confident female form in front of them.


The exhibition will begin on the 25th May and end on September 29th, 2024. It will develop into a series of talks and programs centering around women and black and queer communities. The Broad is set to announce more details for this soon.


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