JustArts Spotlight on the Rose
At first glance, Howardena Pindell’s “Autobiography: Scapegoat” appears to be a simple collage of magazine-like cutouts and words against a gray background. However, after viewing the work for a few seconds, you begin to notice the complicated texture. Though the work is not a sculpture by any means, the techniques Pindell use are reminiscent of 3D pieces. By overlapping many different mediums, ridges form across the entire background, drawing the viewer’s attention to the smoother areas. It is in these areas where her message lies. Phrases such as, “if you don’t do what we say we will,” “we will have our way” and “do not underestimate our power” quite literally hang over the heads of silhouettes and painted images of women, men and children of color.
One of the most powerful images sits at the far right of the piece. A woman lies in a fetal position with knives almost piercing her back. Not even aware of the threats behind her, this woman continues to be attacked even though she is lying helpless and defeated. This theme of oppression and mistreatment is presented throughout the entirety of the work. Like the image of the woman, Pindell uses other bodily images to represent suppression.
Where Pindell writes, “If you don’t do what we say we will…” a white foot stands on top of a person of color’s head, pressing him further and further down. Next to the words “give up your personality,” there is a series of three paintings of a woman. The first one, farthest from the words, is of a her smiling and looking up and painted in color. Next, the woman, still somewhat smiling but looking straight ahead, is pictured in black and white, but still has a lot of detail and shading. However, the third is of a her, painted in somber grays, with her eyes down and a forlorn expression.
These images, all right next to each other, are honest about systematic oppression. Howardena Pindell draws her audience in by presenting these images so casually, not sugar-coating any of the horrific truths. Her works are so impressive because she has the ability to express so much in such a relatively small place. Like how she layers her medium, Pindell is also able to layer her story with others’, authentically telling the audience the reality of what she has experienced.