O' Say Can't You See
Vielmetter Los Angeles is thrilled to announce “O’ Say Can’t You See,” Deborah Roberts' second solo exhibition at the gallery. Roberts' work is on view from September 4, 2021, until October 16, 2021.
Roberts’ new collages on canvas and paper portray the humanity and grace of Black children as they face the harsh and relentless reality of a society that seeks to see and treat them as adults. Over the last decade, Roberts has primarily focused on imaging young girls, originally beginning with self-portraits of herself as a child, and she has in the last few years begun to incorporate young boys. Working in collage with sourced imagery and increasingly incorporating hand-drawn and painted elements, Roberts portrays the vulnerability, strength, and beauty of these children. The exhibition's title, “O’ Say Can’t You See,” repurposes text from the national anthem and posits the question to the viewer: can’t you see these children as children, deserving of the same care and dignity afforded to their peers?
Adorned with her signature bright colors, Black and white stripes, florals, and polka dots, the children exude the playful side of being young and free. Roberts’ investigations challenge viewers to further engage with her subjects by often using symbols, historical figures, and tropes from the past. The work “Let’s not give up” portrays a young girl with one arm raised, like lady liberty and the other a clenched fist – she looks outward, confidently, her pose portraying dignity and strength. Hidden in her pockets is a hand of an unprotected young Black boy.
The children portrayed in Roberts’ works are playful and confident, often meeting the viewer’s gaze directly as a gesture of acknowledgment, demanding to be seen as human. Her ability to concentrate found faces from various sources into one compelling work symbolizes how her figures are not monolithic but rather complex individuals. The freedom and relaxation in the children’s poses in this current group of works speak to their power and innocence and epitomize the beauty that exists in all of us.
Deborah Roberts (b. 1962) recent solo exhibitions include "I'm," The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX; "If They Come," Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK; "Native Sons: Many thousands gone," Vielmetter Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; "Fragile but Fixable," Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles, CA; "Uninterrupted," Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, CA; "The Evolution of Mimi," Spelman Museum, Atalanta, GA. Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions including, "100 Drawings from Now," The Drawing Center, New York, NY; "The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today," National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; "Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary," Californian African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles, USA; "Still I Rise," MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, USA; "Go Figure," Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; "Reclamation! Pan- African from the Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection," Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA; "Legacy of the Cool: A Tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks," Mass Art, Boston MA; "Fictions," Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, NY. Her work is included in several public collections including, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, NY; ICA Boston, Boston, MA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Miami, FL; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, among others. Roberts will have her first solo institutional exhibition in the UK at Bluecoat, Liverpool in October 2021.