Deborah Roberts: I'm

Deborah Roberts: I'm

23 January - 15 August 2021
The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, Texas, USA
/

Overview

“I tell my audiences that this is the idea—to ‘see’ that little girl! I am also hoping they see vulnerability, strength, and beauty. If you can find yourself in her face, then you can see and embrace your own humanity. Once you see me as human, then we can coexist equally. That’s the basis of the work.” – Deborah Roberts

For her first solo museum exhibition in Texas, Deborah Roberts presents 'I'm', a selection of new collages and paintings, as well as a new interactive sound, text, and video sculpture on the museum’s first floor. I'm' is part of The Contemporary Austin's participation in the Feminist Art Coalition , a nationwide initiative of art institutions which aims to generate awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action through exhibitions and events. In tandem with this exhibition, the museum has commissioned the artist to create a new figurative mural on the exterior of the Jones Center building. Titled 'Little man, little man', the mural features collaged images of a young Black boy in various gestures of action and celebration, printed onto weather-resistant vinyl. The artist titled this work after author and civil rights activist James Baldwin’s 'Little Man, Little Man', 1976, a children’s book articulating the joys and struggles of Black childhood through the adventures of a four-year-old boy in Harlem, New...

For her first solo museum exhibition in Texas, Deborah Roberts presents 'I'm', a selection of new collages and paintings, as well as a new interactive sound, text, and video sculpture on the museum’s first floor. I'm' is part of The Contemporary Austin's participation in the Feminist Art Coalition, a nationwide initiative of art institutions which aims to generate awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action through exhibitions and events. 

In tandem with this exhibition, the museum has commissioned the artist to create a new figurative mural on the exterior of the Jones Center building. Titled 'Little man, little man', the mural features collaged images of a young Black boy in various gestures of action and celebration, printed onto weather-resistant vinyl. The artist titled this work after author and civil rights activist James Baldwin’s 'Little Man, Little Man', 1976, a children’s book articulating the joys and struggles of Black childhood through the adventures of a four-year-old boy in Harlem, New York. As Roberts noted, “I wanted these collage works to demonstrate the emotional, celebratory energy of this young child as he tries to make his way into adulthood without being targeted or criminalized.”

Deborah Roberts critiques notions of beauty, the body, race, and identity in contemporary society through the lens of Black children. Her mixed media works on paper and on canvas combine found images, sourced from the Internet, with hand-painted details in striking figural compositions that invite viewers to look closely, to see through the layers. She focuses her gaze on Black children—historically, and still today, among the most vulnerable members of our population—investigating how societal pressures, projected images of beauty or masculinity, and the violence of American racism conditions their experiences growing up in this country as well as how others perceive them. Simultaneously heroic and insecure, playful and serious, powerful and vulnerable, the figures Roberts depicts are complex, occasionally based on actual living or historical persons.

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.

 

“I tell my audiences that this is the idea—to ‘see’ that little girl! I am also hoping they see vulnerability, strength, and beauty. If you can find yourself in her face, then you can see and embrace your own humanity. Once you see me as human, then we can coexist equally. That’s the basis of the work.” – Deborah Roberts

Tickets
Admission at both Contemporary Austin locations is free for all visitors on Thursdays. Advanced ticket reservations are still required during this time.
Website
Location

The Contemporary Austin - Jones Center
700 Congress Ave, Austin
TX 78701, United States

    Receive our newsletter

    Receive information about exhibitions, artists and events.
    We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.
    Close

    Your favourites

    Create a list of works then send us an enquiry.
    No items found