Deborah Roberts Reveals the Rhapsodic Beauty of Black Childhood
“[Every] child has character and agency to find their own way amidst the complicated narratives of American, African American, and art history,” writes Deborah Roberts in her artist statement.
Deborah Roberts: I’m, a solo exhibition co-presented by Art + Practice and the California African American Museum (CAAM), includes a captivating quintet of large-scale collages at CAAM and a compilation of Deborah’s studio artwork at Art + Practice.
Set against stark backdrops, Deborah’s dynamic portraits of Black boys and girls explore race, beauty, and identity. While Deborah wants to acknowledge the societal and political restrictions put on Black youth, her collaged portraits capture moments of innocence, unguarded joy, and a sense of limitless possibilities. She notes: “[My] figures often take the form of young girls and Black boys, whose well being and futures are equally threatened because of the double standard of boyhood and criminality that is projected on them at such a young age. The boys and girls who populate my work […] are still unfixed in their identity.”
Little man, little man, Deborah’s five-piece mural at CAAM, portrays Black boys in a state of gestural celebration, indicating freedom of body and thought. The installation is inspired by and titled after James Baldwin’s children’s book, Little Man, Little Man (1976), which follows the triumphs and struggles of a 4-year-old Black boy growing up in Harlem. “I wanted these collage works to demonstrate the emotional, celebratory energy of this young child as he tries to make his way into adulthood without being targeted or criminalized,” Deborah elaborates. Like the protagonist in Little Man, Little Man, Deborah’s children refuse the limits imposed upon them, instead affirming their place in the world.
The coinciding work presented at Art + Practice includes collaged images with hand-drawn details, work from Deborah’s text-based Pluralism series, and an audio-visual sculptural installation that engages with racist vernacular.
Deborah Roberts: I’m is on view at Art + Practice and CAAM through August 20, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. For more information, please visit the gallery here.
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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