Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires – Exhibit at the AGO


Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires

“To see yourself and for others to see you is a form of validation… I’m interested in that very mysterious and mystical line that is how we relate to each other in the world.”


This is artist Mickalene Thomas’s thesis statement for her new exhibition at the AGO, ​Femmes Noires​, which explores how Black women are represented in art and popular culture. Each work is politically charged and vibrant, with inspiration from artistic movements such as Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, and the Harlem Renaissance. Each work is also shockingly different: Thomas’s exhibition ranges from paintings, silkscreens, photographs, time-based media and site-specific installations.

As you walk through the exhibition on the fifth floor of the AGO, you’ll notice a common theme: reclamation. Thomas reclaims beauty standards, attention, and power for Black women in mainstream media. For example, the painting ​Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe: Les Trois Femmes recasts Edouard Manet’s iconic 1863 portrait of two white, nude female subjects. In Thomas’s version, she features a trio of confident Black women draped in glamorous clothes and makeup — a billboard-sized manifestation of empowerment.

Another common theme is multiplicity. Thomas’s exhibition not only explores the portrayal of Black women in modern media, but shows a variety of these women, depicting them in detail and depth instead of the broad strokes that they are often portrayed with. “For the representation and the diversity of women,” Thomas said in an interview for Canadian Art, “I think it’s important to show that range of blackness. Often when we talk about blackness it’s sort of boxed in as [only] one kind. I think we need to recognize the various types of blackness…”

Even if you’re not an art buff, I encourage you to check out ​Femmes Noires​, which will be on display at the AGO until March 24. Thought provoking, challenging, and vibrant, it’s nothing like what you’ve seen before.

Post by: Yvette Sin

Posted in Blog.