Black Skin and Black Women as Subjects in Oil Painting

by JoAnne McFarland in Choosing Subject Matter
I’m fascinated by how much of women’s erotic energy is stymied by cultural forces, funneled into narrow sexual channels. As a black person I am acutely aware of persistent negative attitudes toward dark skin, kinky hair, and full features.

The Black Antique Doll

Folks often ask me ‘what’s up with the black doll?’ I found it online a few years ago, captivated by the expression on its face, and by the fact that it seemed so magnetic, androgynous, and still. As an object, the black antique doll stands in opposition to what we are led to consider beautiful, worth looking at—powerful. It is black, small, bald, quiet, self-contained.

Connecting With An Audience Through Choice of Subject Matter

When I first began painting the doll my intention was to convey how beautiful I thought it was. I found that many other people were intensely drawn to the work, entranced or disturbed by something about the images. In talking with them, often one feature stood out—either the depth of the skin tone, or the incongruity of the red lips, or the doll’s light eyes and unblinking gaze. Each feature seemed to reveal something critical about the inner life of the viewer.
The black doll is an open system, as dolls often are, reflecting our own desires and fears. I continue to paint this particular doll because the images tap into primal emotions, emotions as powerful as rip tides.