When I saw (Untitled) Club Couple by Kerry James Marshall in person, I cried. I can't tell you all the feels I experienced while viewing his 35-year retrospective exhibition Mastry at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2017. I moved around the show like a kid at a Sweet Factory, filling my soul with art sweets. As an art historian and lover, I consider his exhibition one of the finest examples of visual storytelling. His paintings achieve a level that I think, I hope, all artists strive to accomplish: To make viewers feel something and ultimately, walk away with a new perspective.
I personally was going through an awareness about representation thanks to an incredible essay by Sarah Lewis. As guest editor for Aperture's special issue devoted to photography of the black experience, Lewis points out in her Guest Editor's Note that "America’s progress would require pictures because of the images they conjure in one’s imagination." As I stood there taking in (Untitled) Club Couple, I was reminded of Lewis' words and the importance of representation. I tried to think of a time I had seen such a tender and happy representation of African American love. I started to cry because the answer was not enough.
In Marshall's own words, he paints figures that are “unequivocally, emphatically black.” His intent is to create a new, disruptive art history, one that he inserts the absent black figure into the canon of Western art. I hope Marshall's work inspires more people to create work that reflects their unique experiences, so that we create a body of work that represents the diverse culture that is America.