Deborah Roberts: I'm

Catalogue for the exhibition Deborah Roberts: I’m which was on view at the Contemporary, Austin, January 23 – August 15, 2021. This was the first solo Texas museum exhibition by Austin-based artist Deborah Roberts  (American, born 1962 in Austin, Texas), featuring all new works. ​This new book is a full-color exhibition catalog which includes a foreword by Darren Walker, an essay by the Contemporary’s Chief Curator Heather Pesanti, an interview with Deborah Roberts by Zoé Whitley, and an essay by Eddie Chambers, extract as follows:


A cover of an issue of New York magazine from late October 2020 provided further confirmation, if any were needed, that Deborah Roberts has irrefutably established herself as an artist whose work has things to say, particularly in cogent, succinct and nuanced ways. Roberts was one of a number of artists who were commissioned to design an ‘I Voted’ sticker for the magazine. Every presidential election carries enormous weight, but none has seemed as critical as the one we have just participated in, or experienced, and it was gratifying to see artists as varied as Duane Michals, Julie Mehretu, and Toyin Ojih Odutola contribute to this group statement about the power and importance of electoral democracy. Roberts’s sticker is immediately recognizable, given that it features a collage of a Black girl. The figure’s left arm appears to be raised horizontally, its clenched fist evoking militancy, the nurturing of community, and the protection of the rights of children, that the act of voting represents. For good measure, the phrase I VOTED appears on both sides of the girl’s striking and eye-catching composite image.

Roberts’s practice has always been marked by a compelling impulse to create nurturing visual spaces in which we can step back and look with humanity, compassion and depth at the beauty of younger Black people, an act of looking that leads to a deeper appreciation of the beauty of African American culture. This gesture is of course of profound importance because, very simply, the dominant culture clings to an ingrained pathology that insists that African American culture be viewed, to quote W. E. B. Du Bois, with “amused contempt and pity”. This same pathology insists on withholding from Black children the beautiful, precious and life-forming state of childhood. This is likely neither the time nor the place to provide a full chronicle of the societal violence that continues not only to rob Black children of their childhood, but on occasion, to rob them of their very lives. But if any of us need reminding of this extraordinary state of affairs, we need look no further than the summary, brutal, and inhuman execution, in 2012, of Trayvon Martin, a child confronted and shot dead by a man more than a decade older than him. The juvenile was carrying little more than a packet of Skittles, the epitome of childhood, though his killer, George Zimmerman, saw not a child but a menacing specter, to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Sometimes we can, sadly, do little more than mourn the depths of depravity to which certain people in this country will sink, in their fear and loathing of Black people, including children. We must, though, be mindful of the ways in which police officers have acted every bit as badly as Zimmerman. I’ll cite, briefly, two examples from recent years. In 2015 a white sheriff’s deputy was caught on video flipping a Black high school student out of her classroom chair at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, before picking up the sixteen-year-old girl and throwing her across the classroom as he apparently sought to arrest the juvenile. The previous year, 2014, saw Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old Black boy, summarily shot and killed by Timothy Loehmann, a white police officer, in Cleveland, Ohio. Rice was playing with a toy gun, though Loehmann was dispatched in response to reports of a Black man brandishing a firearm. Any questioning or investigating that Loehmann might have meant to carry out had to wait until he went about the more urgent matter of first shooting the child dead.

The above extracts are from Eddie Chambers, “LET US NOW PRAISE DEBORAH ROBERTS”, a text in the catalogue Deborah Roberts: I’m,  the Contemporary, Austin, January 23 – August 15, 2021. Chambers' essay pages 27 - 32.

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