Iconicity is an overused word in the Instagram era, but the Jamaican-born photographer Renee Cox truly understands the power of icons. In the 1980s, she pivoted from modeling gigs to a decade-long career as an editorial photographer, shooting for the likes of Essence and Cosmopolitan and collaborating on imagery for Spike Lee. She turned her attention to fine-art photography in the 1990s. Often depicting herself in images that counteract stereotypes of blackness, Cox sees her practice as “regaining a ‘self-love,’ not a narcissism, for the black female body.” Not shying away from humor or eroticism, Cox inserts people of color into histories from which they were excluded. For an early series, Flippin’ the Script, she recreated Christian religious imagery like the Pieta with black models. Yo Mama’s Last Supper (1996) became one of the most indelible images of the so-called Culture Wars era. The photograph appropriates the image of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with a nude Cox playing the role of Jesus Christ surrounded by black men disciples—with the exception of a white Judas. When New York’s then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani saw it exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001, he called it “anti-Catholic” and demanded a decency panel to review works in public museums.
Liberating Insight in Fuchsia, Cox’s edition for the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, is an extension of her recent series Soul Culture. Here she returns to spiritual subject matter, but with a more universalist impulse in mind. She multiplies and mirrors images she takes of people in her personal circle (from her sons to artists like Kerry James Marshall), resulting in fractal compositions that elevate her subjects through “sacred geometry.” For her first collaboration with a master lithography printer, Cox has created a deluxe object that proliferates the image of the artist Rafia Santana. Lined with burgundy velvet bookcloth and surrounded by a circular frame, Liberating Insight calls to mind such religious traditions as Byzantine icons, medieval manuscripts and Eastern mandalas.
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