There is a confident sense of self in the subjects of Amy Sherald’s portraits whose gaze is as deliberate as their self-assured stance. They are dressed in sharp, bright colors with smart styling that merges retro and modern aesthetics into a style that’s not easily pegged to a specific genre. One painting features a young woman who looks like she’s at a mad hatter’s tea. In her blue and white polka dot dress, white gloves and red feathered fascinator, the subject is gracefully cradling an oversized white teacup. As Sherald explains in an interview with WYPR:
“There’s a time in your life for me as a black woman where I came to understand myself and who I was and stopped seeing myself the way that my community saw me or the way that society saw me and began to look at myself and internalize myself through my own eyes and to appreciate my own beauty and my own way of being and my own aesthetic.”
The defiant rejection of labeling and categorization is expressed in the grey skin tones Sherald uses in her portraits. It’s a deliberate device used by the artist to challenge institutionalized marginalization of the work. These aren’t black portraits that one can comfortably place in the “other” column, rather Sherald chooses to challenge a time and a place beyond the other, and beyond our preconceived notions of what black is and isn’t.