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  1. Sunday, March 3, 2024

  2. Monday, March 4, 2024

Curator’s Notes: Derrick Adams and Deborah Roberts

An in-depth look at works in the 21c collection by Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites

The works by Derrick Adams and Deborah Roberts fit beautifully into Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art because they examine how the media shapes what and who we value, worship, and aspire to—who we consider stars in today’s world. Media plays an increasingly strong role in influencing who and what we venerate now because we’re completely consumed by it. The mass media used to refer to television, newspapers, and other forms of printed press, but today it’s the primarily digital—an instantly accessible, nearly unavoidable platform. The news and social media are in the palm of your hand, which is where we find ourselves seeking affirmation on screen 24/7. Whether analog or internet-based, media is an important force that shapes our perception of ourselves and of each other. There has been a serious underrepresentation of people of color in the media and that is the subject of two new collage works in the exhibition, one by Derrick Adams and one by Deborah Roberts.

Derrick Adams is a multi-media artist, performer, and DJ. His work uses the flat, saturated colors associated with pop art from the 1960s. Floater No. 11 shows a little girl in a swimming pool holding on to a floatie that says “Tootsie”—which is, of course, a brand of candy. Adams, like Pop-Art predecessor Andy Warhol, is incorporating an everyday commercial product in his work. And this word it could certainly also be a nickname or term of affection for a child.

It’s interesting that it shows a little girl floating in a pool, languidly enjoying herself, her hair adorned with bright beads. Adams was inspired to do this series of works to address the dearth of images of people of color at leisure. When you think of advertisements for vacations or shows on TV about people going on trips, of images like this one have rarely been seen. Adams wants to highlight that. He currently has a solo show at The Museum of Art and Design in New York City that is about the Green Book, a guide that helped African Americans travel safely in the US in the mid 20th century. This is a subject he has explored in depth. His collage features these bright, alluring colors that lead the viewer to look beyond the surface. It’s a critique of the media, conventional representation, and societal conditions at large.

Derrick Adams (American). Floater No. 11, 2016 Acrylic and fabric on paper.

Deborah Roberts’ work typically features young black girls. She mixes together different parts of bodies, so you might see the hands from one photograph and the eyes of another in one of her collages. You become aware that there is more at play than just a simple portrait of a girl. She says this series was in part a response to the lack of advertisements and television shows that feature black females. She said, “To me, Black beauty has always been put on the back burner. If you’re eight, nine, or ten and all the images of beauty that you see on TV and ads are white faces, then where does your beauty lie? And how does that challenge you?” These are polymorphic figures that suggest a multiplicity of identities; young girls and women who are as complex in their representation as they are in real life. They could be at once labeled defiant, innocent, angry, happy, and sad. It’s a mixture of emotions that reflect the realities of lives for these young girls. She said, “I’m interested in the way young girls symbolize vulnerability, but also a naïve strength. The girls who populate my work, while subject to societal pressures and projected images are still unfixed in their identity.” I think that is the reason why she makes them so polymorphic. The girls depicted are still figuring out who they are and everything doesn’t quite fit together yet. Their complexity and vulnerability is their strength.

Deborah Roberts (American). Liberty stands with them, 2017. Mixed media on paper.

These works are currently featured in 21c Lexington‘s new exhibition Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art.