MICKALENE THOMAS, “Afro Goddess Looking Forward,” 2015 (rhinestones, acrylic, and oil on wood panel). | © 2024 Mickalene Thomas


‘AFRO GODDESS Looking Forward’ by Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) in many ways is representative of the artist’s practice. Both the title of the painting and its figurative image encapsulate the themes that have recurred throughout her oeuvre over the past two decades. Thomas’s powerful vision centers Black women and celebrates the Black female body. She explores contemporary notions of beauty, agency, female sexuality, and the tenets of Black feminist theory and, at the same time, engages modern art history and pays homage to her late mother’s 1970s-era Afrocentric style.

The rhinestone-embellished painting covers the Summer 2024 issue of Juxtapoz magazine on the occasion of “Mickalene Thomas: All About Love.” The artist’s first museum exhibition to tour internationally opened over the weekend at The Broad in Los Angeles. More than 80 works are presented in the exhibition, highlighting Thomas’s production across mixed-media painting, collage, installation, and photography. The selections span 2003 to 2024.

The title of the exhibition is drawn from “All About Love: New Visions,” a critically acclaimed essay collection by bell hooks (1953-2021). The pivotal text was published in 2000, a formative period in Thomas’s academic development. Born in Camden, N.J., the Brooklyn-based artist received a BFA from Pratt Institute in 2000 and went on to earn an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2002. She continued her training at the Studio Museum in Harlem where she was an artist in residence, from 2002-03.

“Lounging, Standing, Looking” (2003) was among the works featured in Thomas’s show at the end of her residency at the Studio Museum. More than 20 years later, the photographic triptych depicting the artist’s mother, her first real muse, is the earliest work featured in “All About Love.”


Detail of “Afro Goddess Looking Forward” (2015) by Mickalene Thomas | Juxtapoz, Summer 2024


Thomas’s work illustrates the cover of Juxtapoz. Inside the magazine, Gwynned Vitello conducted an interview with Ed Schad, the curator and publications manager at The Broad, who organized the Los Angeles museum’s version of the show. Schad answered questions about a variety of issues, including how the exhibition came about, the meaning behind the show’s bell hooks-inspired title, and the confidence with which Thomas references European standard bearers in her work:

    Origins of the Exhibition
    The show was initially pitched to Mickalene by the Hayward in London, and their director approached ours about it. I then took a meeting in London with Chief Curator Rachel Thomas, who had opened the conversation with Mickalene, and yeah, I’ve been on the project ever since.…

    [The title] came a little bit later. The show developed over many months, and the title was something Mickalene suggested, and I’m thrilled by the title, thrilled that we’re centering on bell hooks’ book.

    Channeling Bell Hooks
    In my reading of the book, I think the chapter I’ve personally engaged with most is called the “Love Ethic.” I think that one of bell hooks’ arguments about love in that chapter is that the true engagement that love requires, which is often joyful (but always a task) is something that has to be recommitted over and over again. So Mickalene and how she approached her subject, whether it’s her mother Sandra or a muse like Din or Qusuquzah, it’s a level of engagement over the course of many years, even decades.

    Thomas, Picasso, and Monet
    So often we’re at this vantage point where we feel at a disadvantage towards culture. Wherever that’s coming from, whether art history or museums as imposing places, or expectations of culture of how we get involved, we can often feel that culture is looking at us rather than the other way around. Mickalene’s strength and dynamism are that she allows herself to look at someone like Picasso, Courbet, or Monet, fully secure in her identity as a queer black woman coming from Camden, New Jersey, and that is an empowered position that is not taken for granted.

    She doesn’t assume, like culture often does, that we should approach a figure like Picasso and value that just because he’s Picasso. We engage with him and determine our own value according to where we are standing. It’s not a requirement, and so those women she loves, she puts into the poses of Courbet or Delacroix. It’s a critical position, and that critical position is a struggle. Later in Mickalene’s work, with the emergence of a body of work called the Resist series, the struggle is more overt. There she uses that political position that Picasso took as a way of looking at the murder of Black individuals at the hands of the police, the history of incarceration, and the suppression of uprising and revolution.

Following the presentation at The Broad in Los Angeles, “Mickalene Thomas: All About Love” travels to Hayward Gallery in London and The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pa. CT


“Mickalene Thomas: All About Love” is on view at The Broad in Los Angeles, Calif., from May 25-Sept. 29, 2024


FIND MORE Read the full interview with Ed Schad in Juxtapoz magazine’s Summer issue


A new catalog accompanies the international traveling exhibition, “Mickalene Thomas: All About Love.” The publication includes a conversation with Mickalene Thomas conducted by Hayward Gallery Chief Curator Rachel Thomas, and essays by Claudia Rankine, Darnell L. Moore, Ed Schad, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Renée Mussai, and Christine Kim, that consider the artist’s “distinct visual vocabulary, drawing on themes of love, intergenerational female empowerment, and tenets of Black feminist theory.” “Mickalene Thomas / Portrait of an Unlikely Space” documents the artist’s recent exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery, her alma mater. From Phaidon Press, “Mickalene Thomas” features essays by Roxane Gay and Kellie Jones. “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” was published on the occasion of Thomas’s 10-year retrospective. Additional publications include “Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs,” “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires,” and “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me.” Also consider, “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas.”


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