Black Women Turn Inward and Take Flight in Jamea Richmond-Edwards’ Powerful New Portraits

Oct 6, 2016 9:48PM

Police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. Black Lives Matter. Racism. Sexism. America. At The Southern in Charleston, South Carolina, Jamea Richmond-Edwards responds with “Take Me Away,” a new series of quietly powerful portraits of black women.

Richmond-Edwards draws from many sources, including the paintings of Kerry James Marshall, the drawings of Charles White, and the AfriCobra artist collective. Like many artists, her upbringing—in a Detroit ghetto, where she witnessed drug dealing and gun violence, but also the warmth and liveliness of community and family—had an early, enduring impact on her art.

She began drawing at 3 years old as a way to escape the chaos of her drug-addicted mother (who has since recovered) and the stressful surroundings of her troubled community. Drawing soothed Richmond-Edwards and sparked her interest in being an artist. She earned a BFA and an MFA, and now creates work that honors the black women who surrounded her as she grew up. She represents their beauty and dignity, despite their difficult lives.

“I truly admire my mother for her resilience,” Richmond-Edwards has said. “I have always looked up to her, and one of the ways I knew I could honor her was by telling her story and the story of many others.”

In her new series, she tells the story of black women disengaging from social media and the news cycle, which she believes is essential for them to preserve their sanity and sense of self.

The women in these mixed-media paintings are serene. Their clothing, composed of varied material such as paper, textiles, rhinestones, and sequins, resembles birds’ wings, suggesting that, at least for the moment, they have managed to fly away from harsh, everyday realities. Whether their eyes are opened or closed, they all appear inward-focused, as if in the midst of gathering great strength.

—Karen Kedmey

Jamea Richmond-Edwards: Take Me Away” is on view at The Southern, Charleston, South Carolina, Sept. 23–Nov. 6, 2016.

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