Deborah Roberts is presenting “Native Sons: Many thousands gone” at Vielmetter Los Angeles
SUSANNE VIELMETTER PROJECTS Los Angeles announced its representation of Deborah Roberts in late February and her first exhibition with the gallery opened last week.
Roberts is known primarily for her collage on paper works. The Austin, Texas-based artist makes abstracted representations of black girls that explore race and identity issues and consider notions of beauty and body image.
Last year, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art presented “Deborah Roberts: The Evolution of Mimi,” a major exhibition presenting more than 50 works. The show featured recent works from the past five years and was anchored by a body of work called “The Miseducation of Mimi.” Roberts initiated the collage series in 2011 and derived the name from album titles by Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey.
“When I started the ‘Miseducation of Mimi’ series, I was beginning to explore issues that plague young Black girls and eventually Black women, such as perceptions about their beauty and their lack of innocence in a world where whiteness is the norm,” Roberts said in a statement for the exhibition. “The ideas I developed through the Mimi series paved the way for the work I’m doing today.”
Titled “Native Sons: Many thousands gone,” her latest exhibition with Vielmetter Los Angeles marks a departure for Roberts whose work is closely identified with her images of girls. The show focuses on representations, assumptions, and perceptions about black boys.
The exhibition opened April 13 at the gallery’s downtown location, a new space inaugurated in February. Roberts is showing mixed-media paintings on canvas, board, and paper and suite of sculptures.
Vielmetter Los Angeles commissioned art historian Cherise Smith, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to write an essay about the exhibition.
“Roberts has reminded viewers that Black girls are indeed girls whose youth is worthy of protection, whose intelligence is worthy of cultivation, and whose dreams are worthy of fostering, particularly in the moments of #MeToo and #MuteRKelly,” Smith writes. “In these new works, she turns exclusively to Black boys, whose well being and futures are equally at risk, while deepening her examination of the childhood years of African Americans—an exceedingly treacherous period of our lives.”
“In these new works, she turns exclusively to Black boys, whose well being and futures are equally at risk, while deepening her examination of the childhood years of African Americans—an exceedingly treacherous period of our lives.” — Scholar Cherise Smith
DEBORAH ROBERTS, “From feet to wings (Nessun Dorma Series),” 2018 (Mixed media collage on canvas, 65 x 45 inches / 165.1 x 114.3 cm, canvas size; 66.25 x 46.25 x 2.37 inches / 168.27 x 117.47 x 6.01 cm, framed). | Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo by Robert Wedemeyer
Full of personality and individuality, her endearing and artful collages of African American boys carry backstories weighted with fateful tragedy—historic lynchings and more recent killings by police.
“In addition to paying tribute to the many Black boys who lost their lives to the violence of American racism, the works in the exhibition also articulate the many psychological and spiritual burdens placed on Black boys and their parents,” Smith writes. “…These collaged paintings merely hint at the emotional range of Black boys, and yet they implicitly refer to the terror of W. E. B. DuBois’s notion of double-consciousness: while parents see their beloved boys in their own eyes, as innocent and richly complicated, at the same time they view them through the so-called veil (of whiteness), as threatening to white people.”
WHILE CONCENTRATING on figurative collages, Roberts makes mixed-media works in the form of sculptural installations, on occasion. The sculptures featured at Vielmetter Los Angeles are composed of industrial metal clamps with a rusted patina holding a stack of books—many well-worn, or well-read, perhaps.
The volumes include “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander, Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison, and “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.
The repurposed devices reference African American labor, according to Smith, and the literary works “represent the intellectual flowering of postwar writers of the African Diaspora, who sought to address the continuing realities of racial oppression.”
Titled “The Trumpet of Conscience,” the sculptures are inspired by a series five speeches Martin Luther King Jr., delivered in 1967. King’s orations emphasize his mantra of nonviolence, opposition to the Vietnam War and the urgency of addressing the ills of racial inequality and scourge of poverty. The speeches were later published in book form.
The sculptures draw meaning from the King volume, titles by classic and contemporary black literary giants, and the Holy Bible, several copies of which are incorporated in the works. Smith writes that the books “speak not only to the knowledge that Roberts herself has gained, but also to the hard work that must continue in order for Black bodies to be fully enfranchised.”
The books “speak not only to the knowledge that Roberts herself has gained, but also to the hard work that must continue in order for Black bodies to be fully enfranchised.” — Scholar Cherise Smith
THE VIELMETTER LOS ANGELES roster includes more than 40 artists, Edgar Arceneaux, Genevieve Gaignard, Charles Gaines, Samuel Levi Jones, Hugo McCloud, Dave McKenzie, Rodney McMillian, Pope.L, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Mickalene Thomas, among them.
Roberts is also represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery. She joined the London gallery last year and has a forthcoming exhibition there, opening June 7. The solo show is her first with Stephen Friedman as well. CT
Deborah Roberts’s exhibition “Native Sons: Many thousands gone” is on view at Susanne Vielmetter Projects Los Angeles, April 13-June 6, 2019
FIND MORE about Deborah Roberts on her website
DEBORAH ROBERTS, “I do solemnly swear (Nessun Dorma Series),” 2018 (mixed media collage on canvas, 65 x 45 inches / 165.1 x 114.3 cm). | Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo by Robert Wedemeyer
DEBORAH ROBERTS, “That One,” 2018 (mixed media collage on canvas, 120 x 50 inches / 304.8 x 127 cm, canvas size; 121.25 x 51.5 x 2.37 inches / 307.97 x 130.81 x 6.01 cm, framed). | Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo credit by Robert Wedemeyer
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