Stefanie Jackson: Homage To Home And Loved Ones Lost
by Tash Moore
The girl in the window of Little Girl Blue seems to have already accepted her fate. Part of an acquisition by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2016, the 2008 portrait by Stefanie Jackson portrays an unfortunate incident that happened to far too many young black girls in the 1970s, before and beyond: unsolved deaths at the hands of mystery men. The advent of popular urban media has sometimes made their faces known but the perpetrators of their fates less so.
Jackson’s favorite young cousin is portrayed in the piece and calls to mind the near normalcy of violence against women. The case remains unresolved. She has also highlighted several other family members lost to violence and uses her artwork to process her grief. Jackson, a Detroit native, is now an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art after an education and career that took her from the Motor City, to Paris, and finally Athens, Georgia which she now calls home.
“…Jackson is the recipient of several prestigious awards, most recently the 2017 Anonymous Was A Women Award. She has received several individual grants from Georgia Council for the Arts and a Special Projects Grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. In addition, Jackson was a recipient of the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Award in 2002 in recognition of twenty years of sustained art making. Recent exhibitions include the solo exhibition La Sombra y el Espiritu IV: Figurative Visions and Collective Histories at the Stone Center’s Robert and Sallie Brown Museum at the University of North Carolina in 2016 and the group exhibition Shifting African American Women Artists and the Power of their Gaze at the David C. Driskell Center Gallery at the University of Maryland in 2017…”
Black women using their gifts and talents to highlight the tragic plight of others should be appreciated more often. It’s wonderful that a major institution in Jackson’s hometown sought to let the story be retold as often as possible through the eyes of onlookers. I’ve walked past the piece many times and never knew the sorrow lurking behind the baby’s eyes.
Another piece, Mercy, Mercy Me depicts the 1967 Detroit Rebellion within the greater context of Vietnam/Civil Rights Era strife. Another shattered childhood is illustrated by fallen dolls, masked daughters, shirtless black men turning their backs on the conflict, and white National Guardsmen shrouded in gas masks. One may consider the propensity for conquering armies to rape the women and girls left unprotected in fallen cities during wartime. The piece appears to be a commentary on the relative inability afforded black men to keep black women unviolated within the police state, the black man’s hands are raised helplessly. He’s possibly begging for his life with the all too familiar refrain: Don’t Shoot! I don’t see black brothers as willfully leaving the black woman; instead they are trapped in a society that kills and emasculates them to perpetuate division and internalize self-hatred.
In Detroit, social and psychological disparities masked with comparatively great wages in the auto industry, the opportunity to participate in organized labor and receive comparable benefits, especially relative to much of the country. Yet constant discrimination, police surveillance, and resentment sparked the rebellion. There is a separate allusion in the piece to chemical warfare in an era when Agent Orange was simultaneously coating the forests of Vietnam as Tear Gas poisoned the air in Detroit. The female figures may be weeping for their husbands, sons, as well as their livelihoods and safety one may guess.
One may argue that Jackson’s work is rather busy. She packs a lot of punch into her frames with multiple characters, and symbols in every piece. Her work is as multi-layered as the lives of her figures. Behind every character is a story that may never be told in full. Indeed, just as one may never fully know another person, you can never read enough into Jackson’s paintings.
1. Detroit Institute of Arts Acquires Works from 2 Contemporary African-American Artists, 2016 2. Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia
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Tash Moore is bicoastal Detroit booster, social entrepreneur and activist deeply passionate about promoting diversity & inclusion in all spheres. She currently spends her time between Detroit & DTLA.
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