Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival
Mickalene Thomas, Liz with White Skirt and White Shoes, 2015. Colour photograph and paper collage on archival board, original artwork dimensions 11.25 x 8.5. © Mickalene Thomas / SODRAC (2016). Courtesy of the artist and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Mickalene Thomas, Liz with White Skirt and White Shoes
Mickalene Thomas, Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit #1, 2014. Colour photograph and paper collage on archival board, original artwork dimensions 28 x 41.5. © Mickalene Thomas / SODRAC (2016). Courtesy of the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Mickalene Thomas, Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit #1
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Toronto). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Toronto). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Toronto). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Montreal), Photo: Chris Boyne
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Montreal). Photo: Chris Boyne
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Saskatoon). Photo: Linda Duvall
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Calgary). Photo: Kelly Jennings
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful, (Vancouver). Photo: Paul Canlas
Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, What it Means to be Beautiful
2016 Public Installation

Mickalene Thomas
What it Means to be Beautiful

May 1–31, 2016
Billboards at Front St W at Spadina Ave, and across Canada
Front St W at Spadina Ave

Mickalene Thomas is a multimedia artist whose paintings, photographs, and collages diversify ideas of beauty, race, and femininity. Throughout her practice, Thomas explores and asserts the complex identity of black women and challenges issues of representation in Western visual culture. The Brooklyn-based artist depicts relatives, friends, and lovers—real women with varying body types, ages, and hairstyles who exude a strong sense of confidence and elegance. Thomas’ portraits are often captured in her studio, where she constructs lavish 1970s-era living room settings, replete with wood panelling, furniture, and a rich cacophony of vintage-inspired patterns and textiles. Within this space, Thomas’ models make themselves at home, lounging and posing for the camera.

For What it Means to be Beautiful, the artist’s intimate photographic portraits are shown within the context of street advertising, where women are constantly bombarded with narrow notions of female beauty. Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit #1 (2014), for example, is akin to a fashion advertisement, as the model—with her incredibly glamorous ensemble and afro—seductively leans back onto a couch. In some scenes, Thomas’ models appear relaxed, gazing at the viewer as if waking from a nap or listening to music, while others take the form of more traditional portraiture. In all, the women appear regal and graceful. The fractured and collaged spaces nod to cubism and add elements of tactility and three-dimensionality to the images. Thomas often riffs on art history—unabashedly posing her subjects to reference iconic paintings by masters such as Manet or Ingres. Through this project—positioned on billboards in Toronto and eight major cities across Canada— the artist critiques the lacuna of black women from visual culture while asserting their empowered presence and identity in the very spaces from which they have been historically excluded.

Across Canada Locations
Calgary: 9 Ave at 9 St SE & 10 St SE
Edmonton: 105 St & 103 Ave
Halifax: North St at Alderney Dr (Halifax)
Montreal: Van Horne Ave at St Laurent Blvd & St Urbain St
Saskatoon: Pacific Ave & 22nd St
Ottawa: Cumberland St at Besserer St
Vancouver: Clark Dr at East 4 Ave & East 2 Ave
Winnipeg: Bannatyne Ave at Hargrave St & Osborne St at Gertrude Ave & Wardlaw Ave

Supported by PATTISON Outdoor Advertising and Nikon Canada

Curated by Heather Rigg

Scotiabank CONTACT
Photography Festival

80 Spadina Ave Suite 205
Toronto ON M5V 2J4
Gallery Hours
Tue-Fri 11am–5pm
The CONTACT Gallery
is wheelchair accessible.