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For the past 30 years, I have used my work as a conduit to change stereotypes of Black people. I use self-portraiture, scale and my authentic self, to flip the script, to challenge societal norms, question power dynamics and advocate for the liberation of marginalized groups. Showing images at scale, of a powerful Black woman, as a superhero or God herself, helps reframe the historic rendering of Black narratives.
Since the beginning, I have only been interested in creating images that are uplifting and empowering. The two chosen to offer through Dropshop are iconic and stylized versions of Black brilliance with the apropos theme of freedom. I hope these works spark further conversation about race, gender and identity within the context of liberty and self-expression. My Dropshop project ‘Beyond Liberty’ frames this conversation through some of my most iconic work, ranging from my earliest days behind a camera through my more recent work.
Chillin' with Liberty
Chillin’ with Liberty is the antithesis of a stereotypical image. Cox had that all-too-familiar, people-of-color epiphany-of-superhero-exclusion moment while shopping at Toys “R” Us. “There are no black superheroes here,” she lamented. As a corrective, in 1998 Cox created a photographic series utilizing her own image as a black super-heroine named Rajé.
Rajé, who wears Wonder Woman’s bullet-deflecting bracelets, sits atop the statue officially known as Liberty Enlightening the World. Though better known as the Statue of Liberty and popularly associated with immigration, it was initially conceived by Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye in 1865 as a monument to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the U.S. The statue was inaugurated in 1886, six years before Ellis Island was opened.
In this witty and dramatic large-scale work, the artist reinterprets Howard Chandler Christy’s iconic painting, Scene at The Signing of the Constitution of the United States, which is housed in the United State Capitol Building. In her contemporary (and glamorous) twist, Cox’s photograph reimagines modern-day women and men of color in the place of the Founding Fathers. Her subjects are all decked out ─ some in current fashions, others in 1700s period clothing, and some wear dazzling African garb.
In describing The Signing, Cox states: “This work aims to unleash the potential of the ordinary and bring it into a new realm of possibilities. It's about time we re-imagine our own constitutions.”
The image brings to light that although people of color did not participate in the signing of the Constitution, they have most certainly played important roles and made vital contributions to the building of this country.
Renée Cox (b. 1960, Colgate, Jamaica; lives in New York) makes photographs, collages, and installations that draw on art history, fashion photography and popular culture. Her work invokes a critical vision of female sexuality, beauty, power and heroism that inform her interdisciplinary process. Inspired by critical epochs and artistic styles, her works are often reimaginations of art history, ranging from the Italian Renaissance to Cubism to traditional West African Art. Cox utilizes a diverse range of photographic styles from fashion, German portrait, as well as the Harlem Renaissance. Cox’s work challenges how women are seen respective to time, place and the intangible spaces between representation and reality.
Renée Cox received her BA from Syracuse University, (Syracuse, NY) and MFA from the School of Visual Arts. She was a participant in the Whitney Museum of American Art, Independent Study Program. Her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent institutions globally including Spelman College Museum of Fine Arts, Tate Liverpool, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum), Harvard University and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was an associate professor at Columbia University and has lectured at Yale College of Art, New York University and Parsons School of Design.