Beautiful Fictions: Composing the Artificial in the Work of Mickalene Thomas
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This thesis considers three paintings by the contemporary African American artist Mickalene Thomas. I argue that Thomas uses collage to analyze and highlight the socially constructed nature of identities and surroundings. I propose that collage functions in three ways in Thomas’s work: as a medium, an artistic strategy, and a metaphor for the multiple states of being in the world. Thomas refracts the art historical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life through a black, queer, female lens that presents the complexities of black female subjectivities. However, the paucity of critical literature on Thomas’s work is indicative of a broader problem in contemporary art historical discourse when interpreting works by Black artists and often requires these artists to foreground their cultural and physical differences. This thesis redresses the simplistic interpretations of Thomas’s work by demonstrating the breadth and depth of her conceptual interests and in doing so argues that her works are propositions for how we might conceptualize the history of art.