“The art of irony that I employ is based on exaggeration, and art in general is based on distortion.”–Robert Colescott
In the mid-1970s, Robert Colescott began a series of paintings in which he appropriated masterworks by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Édouard Manet, and others. These early works ridiculed stereotypical white perceptions of what it means to be black, thus subverting the iconic status of “master” paintings.
In Exotique, Colescott complicates his sharp sense of irony further. As the mustached Frenchman in this painting compliments his dancing partner for being exotic, she corrects “exotic” and changes it to “Afrocentric,” in hip vernacular. Not only are white inventions of the exoticized black body problematized, so too is inventive black participation in the construction of identities of “otherness.” Employing a host of shorthand symbology–West African cloth, comic-strip dialogue balloons, a masked reclining figure à la Picasso–Colescott exposes our intricate, if not explosive, relationship to art historical, filmic, and contemporary popular representation.