Mickalene Thomas's paintings typically riff on European old masters' compositions, replacing white subjects with women of color. But "Resist," Thomas's first explicitly political painting, is instead a riff on 20th-century American artist Robert Rauschenberg's "Manuscript." Note its collage style and use of newspaper photo imagery. Instead of the eagle at the edge of Rauschenberg's painting, Thomas represents the U.S. with a Coca-Cola logo. "Manuscript" is part of SAM's permanent collection, and also happens to be on exhibit right now in the Wright Galleries for Modern & Contemporary Art.
The Other Inspiration
"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually," wrote James Baldwin, who was also an inspiration for this painting and whose face appears in the painting on the far right.
The Central Image
The central image is an iconic Civil Rights photograph. It shows teenager Walter Gadsden being bitten in the stomach by a police dog at a march in Birmingham on May 3, 1963. Taken by Bill Hudson, it appeared on the cover of the New York Times. But Hudson's photo has a complicated backstory. Gadsden was not actually part of the protest, he was a bystander. And over the years, he has distanced himself from the image's significance—saying, for example, that the cop was trying unsuccessfully to restrain the dog, not using it to attack him.
"Resist" is lit up by a rainbow of color, along with black-and-green rhinestones. There are also those blue and red lines embellishing the teen, the dog, and the police officer. The red lines suggest a pitchfork and devil's horns. "History proves that the white man is a devil," Malcolm X said during the racial turmoil of the '60s.
The Other images
The photo in the lower-right corner, taken in Maryland in 1964, shows National Guard troops with upturned bayonets surrounding integrationists. The photo on the far left in the middle shows a civil rights protester being carried to a police van in a Chicago suburb in 1964. The image in the lower-left corner shows the aftermath of a riot in north Philadelphia in 1964.