Spotlight: Artist Dana Robinson Scours Vintage Issues of ‘Ebony’ Magazine to Create Her Nuanced Portraits of Black Women

The show brings together work from three different series in the artist's oeuvre.

Dana Robinson, Brenda Ellis Meets With Success (2022). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

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What You Need to Know: Kates-Ferri Projects of the Lower East Side is currently presenting “Dana Robinson: Happy as a Lark.” the first showcase of Robinson’s work with the galley. On view through November 13, 2023, the show features a range of works from three different series of Robinson’s oeuvre, with the themes, and motifs of “Happy as a Lark” drawing heavily from models shown in Ebony Magazine issues from the 1950s through the 1980s. Works from the various three series employ different supports, including wood panel, silk, and canvas, making them visually recognizable yet inherently distinct. For the panels, the artist uses an over-abundance of acrylic paint on plastic to recreate a model’s likenesses, before pressing it on wood surfaces to create a transfer—though distorted—image. For the silk and canvas supports, which are known for their absorbency, Robinson applies inks to create her compositions, which diffuse unpredictably and result in various degrees of visual discernibility.

Why We Like It: Dana Robinson’s distinct artistic style lends itself to visual interrogation—compositions can be discerned but their details, largely lost through her technical methodology, invite the viewer to look closer, longer, and try to mine what once was. The New York-based multimedia artist shows a clear adeptness across mediums, utilizing their strengths and weaknesses to create something new and often unexpected. Using the influential publication Ebony Magazine, and more specifically the Black women represented within, Robinson is able to create multilayered works that both thematically and materially operate as a metaphor and allusion to the way Black women are seen, treated, and understood within the context of 20th century America through today. Both individually and collectively relatable, Robinson’s work offers reflections and analysis of ideas around true versus perceived emotional states and lived versus depicted realities.

According to the Gallery: “The illegibility of the true emotional states of Robinson’s models suggests a push for self-reflection. Recognizing the need for respectability politics for Black people to have at least a feeling of safety, the artist demonstrates with the thick and at times blotchy paint that this desire to align with white cis hetero patriarchal values is a goal that was never quite possible. Always arriving but never quite making it. Readers of Ebony were shown what might help them achieve a certain middle-class status. However, no matter how one presented themselves, their skin color still dictated the treatment they received in a society that continues to ignore and erase Black history. The multimedia artist asks: Why continue to play a game you were never meant to win? Why not make up your own game? By recreating the images of these Black people that have been lost to time and apathy, Robinson forces viewers to see them, recognize them, and remember them anew.”

See inside the exhibition and featured works below.

Installation view of “Dana Robinson: Happy As a Lark” (2023). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

Dana Robinson, Miss Pope is Miss Saint Augustines (2023). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

Dana Robinson, Colt 45 (2021). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

Dana Robinson, Going Their Separate Ways (2023). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

Dana Robinson, The Pleasure is back in Menthol (2023). Courtesy of Kates-Ferri Projects, New York.

Dana Robinson: Happy as a Lark” is on view with Kates-Ferri Projects through November 13, 2023.


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