Yo Mama’s Last Supper

Renee Cox is a provocative artist. I still remember when then mayor Rudy Guiliani was campaigning against her show going up in the Brooklyn Museum. Her Yo Mama’s Last Supper piece, which is a combination of five photographs, features her at the center as a naked Jesus. I hadn’t paid much attention to her art since the whole controversy back in ’99, but watching the Hennessey Youngman video on how to be a successful black artist I decided it was time to revisit it.

As a black female artist, I have found myself being pulled towards catering to what the market wants, rather than what I wanted to make. I felt like I was being pushed in certain directions by professors in undergrad and even though my first inclination was to push against it, I figured that if I wanted to have an art career, I might as well make what the people like. Eventually I felt like if I wasn’t making art that was true to my own voice, what was the point? Besides, there are plenty of other ways and easier ways to make money.

I don’t mean to call into question Cox’s authenticity but I wonder how much market demands shape the decisions she makes in her work. In particular the decision to be naked all the time. Is she challenging an idea or reinforcing it? Maybe both.

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