Mickalene Thomas’s vast body of portraits, created in a range of mediums, critically deconstructs accepted definitions of beauty, race, and gender, specifically in relation to black women. Known for her monumental, rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and female subjects, Thomas identifies photography as playing a central role within her practice. She first began to photograph herself and her mother during her time as an MFA student at Yale and has since moved to photographing friends and lovers.
Drawing from diverse sources, including the nudes of Edouard Manet and the 1970s black-is-beautiful movement, Thomas expands the representation of black women within the canon of art history. The artist emphasizes the collaborative nature of her creative process, through which the unique beauty and individuality of each model is manifested. Appearing in elaborately decorated interiors, often gazing directly into the camera, Thomas’s muses exude a powerful sense of self-possession, through which she also aims to embolden her viewers.
Born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1971, Thomas lives and works in New York City. She earned her BFA in painting at Pratt Institute in 2000 and her MFA at the Yale University School of Art in 2002. Thomas has participated in residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2000–2003; the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program, Giverny, France, 2011; and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, 2013.
Her work has been exhibited at numerous significant institutions worldwide, including Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; MoCA Grand, Los Angeles; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Saatchi Gallery, London; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Santa Monica Museum of Art, California; Hara Museum, Tokyo; and La Conservera, Ceutí, Spain. Thomas’s work is part of many important public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The International Center of Photography, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan, among others.
Thomas has been awarded multiple prizes and grants, including the Audience Award for Favorite Short at the 2nd Annual Black Star Film Festival (2013); Brooklyn Museum Asher B. Durand Award (2012); Timerhi Award for Leadership in the Arts (2010); Joan Mitchell Grant and Pratt Institute Alumni Achievement Award (both 2009); and Rema Hort Mann Grant (2007).