Nobody’s Darling: New Works by Deborah Roberts
Christian Green Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, May-August, 2017
Based in Austin, Deborah Roberts has been engaging issues of beauty, race, and women's bodies for the past twenty years. The medium of collage is central to Roberts’ practice—by lifting and remixing various sources of imagery she demonstrates the way identities are likewise pieced together through media, social interaction, culture, and politics. The hybrid figures that emerge from Roberts’s collage technique are young girls—symbolically formed by the confining and controlling images of women propagated in American media. These characters seem constrained by the images that figure them—yet simultaneously their youth lends them a certain freedom, a certain rebelliousness—they cannot quite be contained. Like all children, they are both innocent and monstrous, demure and confrontational. Their identity is vulnerable to the forces of representation around them, but it is also unfixed—filled with potential.
Roberts’s text-based prints provoke questions—how does a name both reveal and conceal? In these works, Roberts mines the vast and creative wellspring of Black women’s names. Through repetition and design, the names spelled out by Roberts become abstract, aesthetic objects—leaving the audience to wonder. How might Black names present an avenue for creative self-empowerment? On the other hand, what sorts of ideas precede a woman named La-a or Lakeesha? Roberts asks her audience to confront their own assumptions and associations about such names, while also presenting the tradition of culturally-specific naming for deeper contemplation than it usually receives.