Black women’s heads of hair are galaxies unto themselves,” poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander writes in her introduction to Lorna Simpson Collages, a new book of that artist’s work. Much of Simpson’s career has been dedicated to documenting the specificity and breadth of black womanhood, and this collection continues in that vein. Black women’s hair, that fraught matter, is not simply the inspiration for this set of collages; it is the subject.
Simpson has long exhumed the ghosts of American history through her presentation of modern subjects, and the collection grants new life to images taken from magazines by layering them with multimedia flourishes and with consumer copy. Simpson’s own artist statement reflects the thorny sources she pulled from: It’s composed, she notes, entirely of “phrases culled from the advertising that originally accompanied many of the images that appear within the collages.”
That Simpson would have a facility with integrating found images isn’t surprising; while the artist gravitates toward photo-based mediums, she’s also painted, drawn, directed, and sculpted. She’s used wigs as props, her own body as a subject. She’s familiarized herself with the smoky allure of charcoal. Simpson’s work is distinctive, the patterns of her photography and collages often immediately recognizable. Simpson’s images operate in concert with the texts that frequently share their plane—her art is a study in meticulous harmony.
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