Roberts makes collages using photographs, magazine clippings, and images from the internet, with a unique visual language evoking African-American womanhood to explore the subjects of beauty, identity and politics.
Forcefully confronting the hyper-sexualisation of women, and media's privileging of whiteness and youth, her figures often take the form of young African girls who she presents with strength and power.
Roberts' collages of fragmented bodies can be compared to the seminal artists Romare Bearden and Hannah Hoch amongst many others. Her composite figures present an expanded view of beauty that prioritises marginalised narratives while fighting discriminatory perceptions of the black female experience.
Asked what she hoped for viewers to take away, Roberts has said, "When you look at my work, you have to look at every part of the face and make something out of those fragments. That's one of the gifts of the work-to see people differently, and not just as one being. Blackness is global." She explains: "My early ideals of race and beauty were shaped by and linked through paintings of renaissance artists and photographs in fashion magazines. Those images were mythical, heroic, beautiful, and powerful and embodied a particular status that was not afforded equally to anyone I knew."
Roberts will have a major solo exhibition of new works at The Contemporary Austin, Texas, USA in September 2020.
The Anonymous Was a Woman award was presented to Roberts in December 2018, a prize granted each year to ten female artists over the age of 40 in the USA and at a critical juncture in their career. She was a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2016 and was an Artist in Residence at The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Florida earlier this year. Roberts was a finalist in the 2019 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and her work is currently on show in the accompanying exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2019-2020). Notable group exhibitions held this year include: ‘Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage', Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (2019) and ‘Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers', Somerset House, London, UK (2019).
Other selected exhibitions include: ‘Re/Devaluing Colorism: Intersections of Skin Color and Currency', Southwest School of Art, Texas, USA (2019-2020); ‘Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art', 21c Lexington, Kentucky, USA (2019-2020); ‘Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary', Californian African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles, USA (2019); ‘Still I Rise', MASS MoCA, Massachusetts, USA (2019); ‘Native Sons: Many Thousands Gone', Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles, USA (2019); ‘Deborah Roberts: The Evolution of Mimi', Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (2018); 'Reclamation! Pan-African from the Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection', Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia, USA (2018); 'Talisman In The Age Of Difference', Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2018); 'Legacy of the Cool: A Tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks', MassArt, Boston, Massachusetts, USA (2018); 'Constructing Identity in America (1766-2017)', Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, USA (2017); ‘Fictions', The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York, USA (2017); 'I know why the caged bird sings', Carver Museum, Austin, Texas, USA (2016); 'Gently Fried', MACC, Austin, Texas, USA (2015); and 'The House on Mango Street', National Mexican American Museum, Chicago, Illinois, USA (2015).
Roberts' work is held in the collections of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; 21c Museum Hotels, Louisville, Kentucky; The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York; Block Museum of Art, Evanston, Illinois; Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Miami, Florida; LACMA, Los Angeles, California; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; and Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, Ohio.