The Portland Art Museum is pleased to present the recently acquired video installation Do I Look Like a Lady? (Comedians and Singers) by internationally renowned artist Mickalene Thomas. Thomas’s work addresses themes of beauty and identity expressed through the myriad subjectivities of African-American women. Her multidisciplinary practice includes painting, photography, installation, and film/video and reconsiders black womanhood and desire through a queer lens. Her work has been exhibited and collected across the United States and abroad. This is the first work by Thomas to enter the Museum’s collection and represents the contemporary art program’s commitment to support the work of women artists and artists of color.
In recent years, Thomas has turned to video production as a way to expand her critical investigation into how mass media and entertainment distill the experiences of African-American women into a handful of archetypes. Do I Look Like a Lady? (Comedians and Singers) presents a dynamic checkerboard of moving image footage featuring African-American actors and singers from across the 20th century: from Jackie “Moms” Mabley to Eartha Kitt, Whoopi Goldberg, Whitney Houston, and several others. The video focuses on their individual voices as they express heartbreaking roles, pointed lyrics, sharp jokes, and strong statements of resistance to the dominant culture. The work is a powerful, and often riotous, reflection on the roles of black women in the United States.
The Museum is particularly honored to collect a work by Thomas, who lived in Portland as a young adult. She often speaks of visiting the Museum to see an exhibition of Carrie Mae Weems’s work in 1994, and how that formative experience enabled her to see herself reflected in the art and led to her decision to become an artist. This exceptional story points to the impact of art and the possibilities that can be inspired inside the Museum’s galleries.
The Contemporary Art Council was instrumental in providing seed funding for the purchase of this work. The Council continues to steward the Museum’s contemporary programming with extraordinary vision.