Deborah Roberts critiques notions of beauty, race, and identity in contemporary society through the depiction of Black children. The traveling exhibition Deborah Roberts: I’m, presented concurrently at Art + Practice and the California African American Museum, expands on Roberts’s continued work of illustrating Black youth through collage. The artist’s mixed-media works on paper and canvas combine found images, sourced from the internet, with hand-painted details in striking figural compositions that invite viewers to look closely, to see through the layers. She focuses her gaze on Black children—historically, and still today, among the most vulnerable members of our population—investigating how societal pressures, projected images of beauty or masculinity, and the violence of American racism conditions their experiences. Simultaneously heroic and insecure, playful and serious, powerful and vulnerable, the figures Roberts depicts are complex and complete visions of Black personhood.
CAAM will display a large-scale mural by Roberts installed on the walls of the Museum’s expansive lobby. Entitled Little man, little man (2020), the mural features collaged images of a young Black male figure in animated expressions of joy. The artist titled this work after author and civil rights activist James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man (1976), a children’s book articulating the triumphs and struggles of Black childhood through the adventures of a four-year-old boy in Harlem, New York.
Deborah Roberts: I’m is organized by The Contemporary Austin and is co-presented in Los Angeles by Art + Practice and the California African American Museum. The California African American Museum at Art + Practice is a five-year collaboration.