In addition to representational imagery, the artist also makes text works, juxtaposing words in ways that expose racism and racial biases entrenched in language and linguistic systems. For example, in her series of prints entitled 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.
This exhibition is curated by Heather Pesanti, Chief Curator & Director of Curatorial Affairs, with text also by Pesanti.
Deborah Roberts: I'm is funded by Rachel and Jeff Arnold, Annette DiMeo Carlozzi and Dan Bullock, Joyce Christian and Rudolph Green, Fotene and Tom Coté, Ford Foundation, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kathleen Irvin Loughlin and Chris Loughlin, Susan and Richard Marcus, Suzanne McFayden, National Endowment for the Arts, Guillermo Nicolas and Jim Foster, Vielmetter Los Angeles.