‘je t’adore’ is a rhinestone-encrusted exploration of erotica

At Yancey Richardson, artist Mickalene Thomas engenders a stratified approach to the Black body as narrative

This past week, Mickalene Thomas opened je t’adore, a sparkly solo show reuniting the artist with longtime collaborator Yancey Richardson. She returns to the gallery 11 years following their first joint project, where Thomas curated tête-à-tête—an installation of key images from photographers who inspire her work. je t’adore is a series of photo collages, featuring the rhinestone-encrusted bodies of women depicted in the archives of Black erotica. “The work in this exhibition expands upon my existing series of collages that explore the role of Jet calendars within the context of African American art history, while questioning society’s traditional notions of beauty, erotica, and sensuality,” says Thomas.

je t’adore furthers the artist’s studies of Blackness, which have always defined her work. “A selection of photographs reflecting Western culture’s fascination with Black women’s bodies pushed me to metaphorically engage with a wide spectrum of familiar yet anonymous women, who you see in my work front and center,” says Thomas. “On a formal level, the individual elements of each work—which are printed directly on metal using a dye sublimation process—are cut out and layered on top of one another. On the surface are my drawings, adorned with glittering, multicolored rhinestones, transforming the piece into a dynamic, three-dimensional construction.”

Thomas’s collage process ensures that audiences take a stratified approach to engaging with the nude in her work. “When I curated tête-à-tête [at Yancey Richardson], it was the beginning of my exploration in showcasing other photographers working with the Black body as narrative,” Thomas notes.

Of je t’adore, Richardson herself remarks that, “Mickalene created objects in a completely new way as part of her present practice—unlike any work I have seen. [She has a] deep conceptual engagement with female beauty, sexuality, history, and media.” The show repositions the nude female object as subject, placing her directly within the larger body of Black art history with the intent to “celebrate [her] sexuality and unique beauty,” in Thomas’s own words.