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.