In addition to representational imagery, the artist also makes text-based works, juxtaposing words in ways that expose racism and racial biases entrenched in language and linguistic systems. For example, in her series of prints titled 'Pluralism', 2016, the artist typed out in Microsoft Word a list of names commonly given to Black females (e.g., Denisha, Latifah, Mikayla, Shemika). The works show the result, as the software automatically underlined these names in red, signifying their incorrectness or unrecognizability. These text works, like her collages and paintings, fit within the artist’s broader dialogue engaging American history, art history, black culture, and popular culture.
Roberts has long created images featuring young, Black female subjects. Dressed in brightly colored clothing, including children’s fashions and African textiles, the figures have assumed various poses, some of them improbable and surreal, with arms outstretched and, occasionally, oversized boxing mitts on one or both hands. 'Red, White, and Blue', 2018, for example, portrays two young female figures standing back to back, one in a hijab, both wearing Converse-style sneakers and sharing a pair of boxing gloves, a powerful image that suggests partnership while alluding to beauty standards perpetuated through media and popular culture. More recently, the artist has begun depicting young Black males, in addition to females, exposing the specific burdens and traumas confronting this population. 'Facing the Rising Sun (Nessun Dorma Series)', 2018, depicts a young boy in prison clothing fit for an adult. The work references George Stinney, Jr., who as a fourteen-year-old, in 1944, was wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of two white girls, ages seven and eleven, in South Carolina. Moments like this in our past resonate with recent incidences of Black children being fatally targeted and criminally prosecuted as adults.
'Deborah Roberts: ‘I’m', tours from The Contemporary Austin, Texas (23 January – 15 August 2021) to Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Denver, Colorado (10 September 2021 – 30 January 2022) to Art + Practice, in collaboration with the California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA (19 March – 20 August 2022) and Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida, USA (16 September – 4 December 2022).