• Elly Fishman
  • A single image from Mickalene Thomas’s Polaroid Series

“Tête-à-Tête,” a group show curated by Mickalene Thomas, is rich in patterns and repetition. It features the work of ten African and African-American artists, including Thomas herself, exploring notions of black identity. In her remarkable Polaroid series, Thomas uses Polaroid prints to create a quilt of images that depict various iterations of black female selfhood. Much of the work is rooted in 1970s images of black American women. The settings are garish and colored with bold patterns, animal prints, and bright colors. Most photographs appear at least twice throughout the series; some capture an overt coquettishness, and others are more removed. The colors and subjects’ positioning are reminiscent of Henri Mattise’s Odalisque paintings. Like Matisse’s portraits, Thomas’s image repetition shifts the viewer’s understanding of her subjects. While many women in Thomas’s photographs have the 1970s “power sister” look, the recurrence of the subjects softens their potency. As I returned to each of the women individually, I felt pieces of their sexuality and power being lost. They bled into a larger pattern and landscape.