This is one of three works created specifically for Figuring History. Mickalene Thomas uses documentary images of the Civil Rights Movement overlaid with bright colors and rhinestones. Thomas cites I Am Not Your Negro, a 2017 movie focused on the writings of James Baldwin, as one of her inspirations.
"History is so complex and dirty. It’s so written by people who want to tell their stories. So there’s a lot of truth that’s not a history. If you really want to learn and know, you have to dig for it."
– Mickalene Thomas
© AP Photo / Bill Hudson
This infamous photograph of white officers attacking Walter Gadsden with a police dog was taken during the Birmingham, Alabama, riot in 1963. The Birmingham riot was in reaction to targeted bombings at residences associated with Martin Luther King Jr. King was in Birmingham to announce an agreement towards partial desegregation and the economic advancement of Black workers. Knowing Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham, Thomas is creating a connection between this work and her fellow artist in Figuring History.
Photography is always part of Thomas’s process. She often projects her collaged images onto a canvas when she starts to paint. In this instance, she incorporates documentary images in the composition, a technique also used by Robert Rauschenberg, who introduced socially and politically charged imagery into his silkscreened paintings in the early 1960s.
Images: Resist, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas mounted on wood panel, 84 x 108 x 2 in., © Mickalene Thomas. Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires, 2010, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, 120 x 288 x 2 in., The Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas. Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on wood panel, 108 x 144 x 2 in., Sydney & Walda Besthoff, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas.