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Con-tra-ver-sy, “Like the Prince Song”

One of the most controversial African-American artist working to today, Renee Cox is definitely “Out there.”

Renee Cox

[Excerpt from Wikipedia, ( )]

Renee Cox is known for her bold, politically motivated self-portraits. The photographs often play upon and subvert classical art historical images. Cox is famous for her two alter-egos Yo Mama and Raje, both bold, black women who are out to right the injustices of sexism and racism…

…Cox has stated that her “main concern is the deconstruction of stereotypes and the empowerment of women.” She uses herself as her primary model in order to promote an idea of “self-love” as articulated by bell hooks in her book Sisters of the Yam, because as Cox writes in an artist’s statement, “slavery stripped black men and women of their dignity and identity and that history continues to have an adverse affect on the African-American psyche.” One of Cox’s main motivations has always been to create new, positive visual representations of African-Americans.

In her work you see bold, strong and often confrontational images. I love the strength and solidity behind the gazes of each of her subjects. I like the black and white photos the best because I think they turn up the intensity of the subject matter; The restricted color pallet makes you focus on the feeling. I really Like Cox’s work; I cannot say enough wonderful things about it.

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[Excerpt from Brooklyn Museum, ( )]

One of the most controversial African-American artists working today, Renee Cox has used her own body, both nude and clothed, to celebrate black womanhood and criticize our racist and sexist society…

From the very beginning, her work showed a deep concern for social issues. In her first one-woman show at a New York gallery in 1998, Cox created superhero named Raje who led a crusade in trying to overturn stereotypes such as in the piece “The Liberation of Lady J and UB,” where Raje leads Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to liberation from their boxes.

Her next photographic series, Flipping the Script, would create a firestorm of controversy. In the series, Cox took a number of European religious masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s David and The Pieta, and reinterpreted them with contemporary black figures.

“…Christianity is big in the African-American community, but there are no presentations of us,” she said. “I took it upon myself to include people of color in these classic scenarios.”

Cox’s photograph, “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” ignited a maelstrom of controversy when it was shown in the exhibit Committed to the Image at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001. It was a remake of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” with a nude Cox sitting in for Jesus Christ, surrounded by all black disciples, except for Judas who was white.

Many Roman Catholics were outraged at the photograph and New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani called for the forming of a commission to set “decency standards” to keep such works from being shown in any New York museum that received public funds.

In 2006 Cox exhibited her series Queen Nanny of the Maroons at the Jamaican Biennial shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica. The body of work was awarded the Aaron Matalon Award, the highest honor given to any artist exhibited in the biennial.

Renee Cox continues to push the envelop in her work, questioning society and the roles it gives to blacks and women with her elaborate scenarios and imaginative visuals that offend some and exhilarate others.

She has won many awards including:

  • 1993 Creative Time Inc. – Street Poster Project, Mama I Thought Only Black People Were Bad (executed in collaboration with Tony Cokes)
  • 1996 Artists Fellowship Award, New York Foundation for the Arts
  • The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH
  • 1997 Artists-in-Residence Program, Light Works, Syracuse, New York
  • 2007 Aaron Matalon Award, The National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica
  • Chrysalis Award, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts

[Excerpt form, ( )]

In the wake of Pop Art and the post-Pop Koonsian aesthetic, Cox brings to the table not only the color and kitsch-sensibility of these predecessors but also the contemplative aesthetic of Lorna Simpson, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and even Lyle Ashton Harris, particularly in terms of the body. The rest is pure glam. These slick, color-laden images, their large format and Cox’s own powerfully beautiful figure heighten the visual impact of the work, making Cox’s politics clear and engaging.

Renée Cox’s work has been widely exhibited in such venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston among others. This body of work marks her place among the most creative contemporary artists working today.

Learn More about her at her own website:


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