Celebrating International’s Women’s Day with Mickalene Thomas’ Femmes Noires

Representation matters.

As a self-proclaimed fashionista, I think it’s important to constantly expand my personal style and creativity. I love scrolling through Instagram to see all the jaw-dropping street style and incredible editorial photoshoots from bloggers and models alike. But, I also believe that other mediums like music, plays, and art can be inspiring as well. That’s why I love going to museums on a regular basis.

In February, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) opened a new exhibit called Femmes Noires. The artist, Mickalene Thomas, is a multi-medium Brooklyn-based creator and she’s also black woman. Her pieces explore themes of beauty, race, and female sexuality, and creates paintings, films, and art installations. And, because today is International Women’s Day, I thought it would be nice to talk about my recent visit to this empowering and beautiful art exhibit in Toronto.

 

Femmes Noires

I saw the collection shortly after it opened and I love it. The entire exhibit features black women (hence the name Femmes Noires) reconstructed through the eyes of Mickalene Thomas. Her pieces also reflect the celebrities, books, and art that inspired her and influenced her as a child but also as a black woman. This was something I related to and absolutely loved about the exhibit. For me, it was about seeing myself, seeing women who looked like me as the central subject, as objects of desire, as people in positions of power. Seeing black women from the perspective of a fellow black woman is something we rarely see but it’s so important.

I decided to see it again because the exhibit is so immersive, it has to be experienced in person.

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Living-Room Tableaux

One of my favourite parts of the exhibit were these interactive art installations. Thomas calls them living-room tableaux and they’re beautiful. These carpeted spaces are filled with printed chairs and ottomans with piles and piles of books on the surrounding tables and floor that visitors can actually go and sit in.

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Some rooms were filled with collages of black women in pose. Other had short films projected on the front wall playing videos of black famous black women. And so, as I sat on a chair and perused to books written by black authors, I could hear Eartha Kitt crooning to “Paint Me Black Angels (Angelitos Negros)” in the background. As I moved into the next space, I could hear Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” playing and walked into the next tableaux. The film featured singers, comedians and entertainers and all of them were black women. Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt shared the screen with Wanda Sykes and Whoopi Goldberg in a twelve-minute reel of pure humour, beauty, and talent. 

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I also loved the collection of books in each room. There were piles of books by famous black authors, ones I’ve read or plan on reading: Kindred by Octavia Butler, Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, What It Mean When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, and more. Personally, I found a book by Antiguan novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid that I hadn’t read before called A Small Place.

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I must have spent over an hour in this exhibit and I will probably visit again before it closes on March 24th. If you’re in Toronto, I would definitely recommend visiting the AGO to see this exhibit.

Thanks for reading!

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