[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In “Harmonia Rosales: la valentía de tocar lo intocable,” [Harmonia Rosales: The Courage to Touch the Abstract] Lorena Martínez Iglesias (Bloganidades, Universidad Complutense Madrid) writes about Cuban-American artista Harmonia Rosales.
Today we dedicate the post to Harmonia Rosales, an Afro-Cuban painter born in Chicago in 1984, whose work focuses on the empowerment of black women in Western culture.
Since her childhood, she was fascinated by artistic representations, especially by the works of the Renaissance masters, but she could never identify herself because they mainly represented a white male hierarchy and an idealized subordinate woman immersed in the Eurocentric conception of beauty.
Rosales works in reinterpreting the Renaissance masterpieces, replacing the main subjects of the painting with black heroines, because she says that “religion and power go hand in hand” and the colonists used religion to “manipulate and control.” She explains the idea that a white Eurocentric man who dominates the sky is all that people see, and it is what everyone grows up seeing, until they are assigned a high value on such conceptions. This vision made her feel excluded from this art world dominated by Eurocentric a perspective which is, in turn, the inspiration for her paintings. Rosales points out that with her work she hopes to be able to empower people through art, even if it is a small group of people, and to give black women “works of art that reflect their beauty, which has been ignored for so long.”
One of her many works is El nacimiento de Oshun [The Birth of Oshun], an oil painting on canvas, which reimagines Sandro Botticelli’s work The Birth of Venus by placing Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of fertility, sensuality, and prosperity, in a seashell surrounded by black angels; in contrast to Botticelli’s painting, where a white Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, is in a seashell surrounded by white angels. In this painting, Oshun has vitiligo, which is created from patches of gold, which are rooted in Nigerian narrative traditions. The painting is meant to challenge perceptions of beauty because, as she puts it, “traditionally, we see Venus as this beautiful, flowing-haired woman. My hair never flowed, so I wonder why this is supposed to be a painting of the most beautiful woman in the world.” This painting is made to show beauty in imperfection—for example, with the patches of vitiligo, a skin condition. She also says that she created this work with her daughter in mind, to show her that black women and their natural hair are beautiful.
Some sources have described “The Creation of Adam” as indescribably beautiful, showing Jehovah’s finger and the elegant, naked body of the first man. In contrast, the painting created by Harmonia Rosales shows God as a black woman and creates the illusion of the heavens as a womb in which God, a black woman, is giving birth to Adam, showing strength and empowerment.
In her 2018 series “The New World Consciousness,” she explores the duality between the Virgin Mary and Eve. During the period of “Christian colonization,” women were classified into two distinct categories, the Virgin Mary and Eve. The Virgin Mary is a woman who has been placed on such a high pedestal that she is impossible to emulate. In patriarchy, she is, in a word, ideal, the woman that no modern woman in our society could ever be.
On the other hand, Eve represents the woman who dares to question, to challenge, the woman who was expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result of her non-conformity. Both women have been judged by male standards of acceptability and respectability. Revered, or reviled. Praised, or condemned.
Her latest work—‘Miss Education: reclaiming our identity’, 2019
In this exhibition, Rosales examines America’s puritanical foundation and approach to what is considered “civilized” while shedding light on today’s issues. Although these European-made ideals often overlook those who do not fit into “traditional” frameworks and deny the African origins of religion and its inadvertent route to the Americas, they have never underlined the true worth of black women. The black woman’s identity tells a much bigger story of creation, of God, of being a black woman, of being a work of art. And finally, these erroneous ways of thinking are questioned and modified to forge new concepts of excellence.
Through the work of Harmonia Rosales, black women can no longer be manipulated. We see the beauty and contrast within ourselves, prompting us to dive deeper into our natural essence and our contributions, to relive through this perspective.
Translated by Ivette Romero. For original, full article (in Spanish), see https://webs.ucm.es/BUCM/blogs/ghi/13962.php
Another story on Harmonia Rosales:
As Nas wins his first Grammy, take note: The album art was made by Harmonia Rosales
Patrick Singer, Smile Politely, March 15, 2021