Night at the Museum: Kerry James Marshall

Last Sunday was the closing night of the "Mastry" exhibit by Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breuer in New York City. I saw that it was creating a buzz over social media and I few friends urged me to go see it so I wanted to see it for myself. I wasn't the only one trying to see it before the exhibit ended - the line to the museum wrapped around the corner! Kerry's artistic style features strikingly black figures who both break stereotypes and represent the Black experience in total realness or in his words "unequivocally, emphatically black". Some of his other pieces held striking messages delivered in the most subtle ways. I wanted to share a few of my faves with you guys! You already know I'm all about perspective, so I'll also share a few of my interpretations as well. Put on your thinking caps and check it out!

1. Brownie, Cub Scout, Scout (Girl) Scout (Boy)


2. Adam & Eve

This is the most beautiful depiction of Adam and Eve I think I've ever seen. When you see other images of them, they're covered with leaves, Eve's straight hair is covering her breasts, and Adam's curly hair droops around his ears. But here Marshall has them frolicking through the garden of Eden free and in action. Adam has the ill shape-up and Eve's locs are flowing in the wind (do we see the body on Eve??) And if you look close, you can see a necklace swaying on Adam's neck in the shape of Africa. Yes details!

3. Red (If They Come in the Morning)

  This painting is an excerpt from a letter sent in 1970 from James Baldwin to Angela Davis , who was a leading Communist Party member andwas accused of murder. He closed the letter with “For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night,". 

4. Black Star 2

5. School of Beauty, School of Culture

This painting stands 13 feet high and 8 feet wide and you must take it in doses. Divided by the mirror, the afro-textured haired women are on the left, the processed haired women on the right. Depending on your perspective of the two, either side can represent beauty or culture. I'd like to think that they represent both. In the same mirror, is Kerry James Marshall himself taking this picture. Shoutout to this woman in the grey pants killing this pose! We all have that one friend that's always ready for the photo. In the middle of the school is a distorted image of Sleeping Beauty, with yellow locks and pale skin. Sleeping Beauty looks so out of place. Even the baby is wondering what it's doing there in the middle of the floor! I love the message in this photo because it tells me that there is no room for society's standards of beauty when we are embracing ourselves.  When we embrace ourselves we don't give blonde hair and blue eyes the time of day. 

6. Still-Life with Wedding Portrait

Harriet Tubman and her second husband. Who knew Harriet even had a first husband!!?

7. Past Times

In this painting everyone is living the good life in the hood. The setting is based in the South Side of Chicago where Kerry lived throughout his childhood. It reminds me of those of us in NYC who are fresh to death and would stop traffic in any setting, but call the "sketchy" areas of this city, home. There are a lot of us diamonds living under pressure. The boy sitting on the picnic blanket is listening to Gin & Juice, while the brother and sister are playing croquet and gold on the left. The good bougie life in the hood! 


I wish I hadnt learned about "Mastry" so late in the game, it's definitely one of those exhibits that I wouldn't mind going to see twice just to make sure I didnt miss anything. This was a beautiful showcase of black art and black life. After 35 years of painting, this was Kerry James' Marshalls largest museum exhibit and it was well deserved. 

Thanks for reading! 


evelyn jean francoisComment