Renee Stout (American, b. 1958)
A Vision I Can’t Forget, 1999
30 x 21 inches (sheet)
Gund Gallery Collection; Samuel B. Cummings Art Fund Purchase, 2016.1.1.
Renee Stout’s self-portrait, A Vision I Can’t Forget, parses through the pain and beauty inherent in her tangled ancestry as an African American. Stout sets herself against a pair of mysterious Afro-Caribbean objects, a Kongolese nkisi figure and a Voodoo mask from Haiti, to visually invoke the diverse and far-reaching connections of the African diaspora. While the combination of such objects conjures an optimistic sense of black unity, their juxtaposition with the solemnity of Stout’s expression suggests the somber implications of the Atlantic slave trade. Stout casts a wide net for collecting these objects to find some semblance of a heritage that has been robbed by slavery. Compositionally, the separation of these objects in relation to Stout mirrors the ways in which the legacy of slavery continues to sever African Americans from a concrete sense of ancestry and tradition. Stout’s face is bare, free of makeup, and her hair hangs in locks, implying her acceptance of her natural self and all the troubled history that underlies her identity.
-Hannah Anain ‘19 and Rose Bishop ‘17 for the 2017 Gund Associate-curated exhibition Black Women/Black Lives.