Thrown, in this way, into the binding conviction that only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would only see what there was to see: the eyes of other people. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Art history, fashion and pop culture have maintained an unrelenting hold onto euro-centric ideas of beauty that influence our perceptions of attractiveness. In Toni Morrison’s tragic tale the Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove was driven to insanity by her desire for blue eyes and the belief that they could free her from the ravages of the trauma she suffered from everyone in her life. If we could re-envision Pecola’s story before she descended into madness, what would it look like? Where are the counter images that challenge our notions of beauty? What if she could see herself in images, films, and art that reflected back on what she sees in the mirror? What if she believed in her own beauty, refusing to be defined by the ideals held by others? She would be a hero—she would be somebody’s champion.
Deborah Roberts’ collages reimagine and challenge our notions of beauty. The artist’s work manipulates and distorts her subjects, using this process as a strategically deliberate device to block the viewer from their own narrow perceptions. By examining the layered characteristics of her portraits, the viewer cannot easily place them into predefined boxes, nor can they rely on subjective standards of beauty or simplified notions of blackness. As a result, the viewer is challenged to look deeper. In Somebody’s Champion I see the Pecola Breedlove I always hoped she would become. Someone who is complex, who fought, who faced trauma and emerged from it–she’s not bound to a misguided belief in miracles, but to a belief in herself.
Deborah Roberts’ body of work has evolved from traditional painting to collage for over 8 years. Her work was recently featured in the Studio Museum’s critically acclaimed finale show Fictions in 2017. She has two solo shows running at the Spellman College Museum of Fine Art and at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco.