Layered Collages by Deborah Roberts Confront Preconceived Ideas of Beauty and Culture

Posted by: Andrea Hammer

Deborah Roberts, an Austin-based artist represented by Fort Gansevoort in New York, creates striking layered collages about the issues confronting black girls.

Her compositions integrate found photographs, painting and drawing–addressing the issues of girlhood, vulnerability, body image, popular culture and self-image. Hand-painted serigraphs, with stereotypical names of black girls, urge viewers to reflect on preconceived ideas of beauty and culture.

“The girls I depict in my work are at the age most young girls are when they’re forming their sense of self, figuring out who they are in the world and the odds that are stacked up against them. This moment of vulnerability is a space of danger but also a space of power. If we can address the way girls are discouraged and limited by the images they see, we can make space for them to resist and become strong independent women,” she says.

As a woman of color, I—and my peers—have grown up surrounded with TV shows, magazines, and movies that center white beauty as universal. This is the reality of American culture and while things are starting to diversify in the media, the same problems still exist.”

To convey these issues visually, the artist synthesizes various mediums, with layers of complex meaning.

I think it’s important to add as many mediums to the faces in my work as I can. The construction of these images offers different meanings. Drawing and painting unify the works by offering additional narratives. My work becomes less abstracted with the addition of drawing and painting than simply collaging photos together,” she explains.

“The layered images suggest different sources coming together to influence your sense of self. We perform ourselves based on things we see around us, ideals that are promoted. The use of large fists in several of my works suggest power structure, namely the acquisition and assertion of power.”

With an insistence that viewers stop and think, these images are intended to encourage an important conversation.

“We are not a monolith,” the artist says. “If one can see a person as human with multiple sides, then maybe they can see themselves in that person.”


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