Renée Cox @ReneeCoxStudio is often described as provocative or controversial, even by herself on her own website. The Jamaican-American artist’s exquisitely staged photographs do the work of inserting Black bodies into white-dominated imageries or symbolically liberating them from oppressive stereotypes. In her “Yo Mama” series, Cox recasts iconic Christian artworks—Michelangelo’s Pietà, Leonardo’s Last Supper—with herself and other African American models performing as the protagonists, often in the nude. The project was rebuked by Rudy Giuliani when it was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001, which is probably the root of the “controversy” surrounding her work, but in hindsight this of course says much more about the righteous racism of Giuliani and the neocon movement he championed. For in fact, to be outraged by these works is to object to the presence of naked Blackness but to have no problem with white nudity in the long history of art. It is to say that people with Black skin have no right to Christianity, a religion millions of African-descended people were forced to adopt but that they transformed into something beautiful, a mechanism of survival, communal celebration, and even resistance. That Cox’s conceptually straightforward gesture could provoke such an incendiary response speaks to the urgency of her project and others like it.
Renée Cox, Yo Mama’s Pieta, 1996 ❤️
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