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Deborah Roberts at Art & Practice (in collaboration with CAAM)
March 19, 2022 - August 20, 2022
The curious title of Deborah Roberts’ exhibition at Art + Practice, I’m, implies a sense of becoming, a budding identity still in formation. Roberts takes Black children as her subject, rendering their faces by sourcing images of children, cutting them up, and then reassembling them to create fractured hybrid faces that hone in on the multiplicity of the individual. Roberts also mixes in photographs of adults and historical figures as well as well known Black actors and politicians (Obama’s hand makes an appearance in one work).
These photographic body parts blend seamlessly with expertly painted limbs and clothing. The children look out at us against a stark white background, nonplussed, as if we’ve just interrupted them playing. In discussing her work, Roberts references instances where kids are in confrontations with police and treated with violence and hostility, when they are literally just standing there doing nothing — being kids.
Subtle symbols make their way into the paintings. In Cock-a-Doodle-Do, a young man flexes his scrawny arms in a feat of strength. His shirt features a rooster, nodding to a kind of masculine machismo. While painting this work, Roberts was considering Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was killed by police in Cleveland. By focusing on children, Roberts speaks to the adultification of Black boys and girls that is so prevalent and toxic in our society, alongside the ways that systemic racism and police brutality impacts people of color, starting in childhood.
The traveling exhibition marks the beginning of a five-year collaboration between Art + Practice and the California African American Museum, and was previously shown at The Contemporary Austin and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and will travel next to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
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Photo: Deborah Roberts, I’m (installation view) (2022). Image courtesy of the artist, Art + Practice, and the California African American Museum.