Harmonia Rosales’ work exemplifies the values of the Black Feminist Movement while simultaneously calling in to question Black people’s place in the world. Her work creates a space to discuss blackness and its erasure. Rosales elevates the place of the Black Feminine in a world that has undervalued and oppressed Black women. The Black woman garners the most negative representation not just in art but in media too, and Rosales helps to reframe the image of Black women by elevating them beyond the position of those who seek to oppress them. Rosales’ work gives black women the space to heal and allow for a surplus of self-love in the aspects of themselves that they have been taught to hate. Let’s look at Rosales’ Black Renaissance art!
Harmonia Rosales and Black Feminine Exposure
Harmonia Rosales grew up in an environment ripe with artistic expression, with a mother who worked in visual arts and a father who was “musically inclined” (Rosales, Buzzfeed 2017), allowing for her to learn and mold herself into the artist that she has become. Even deeper than that, she wants her daughter to accept her Blackness as well, “…her fro, everything,” (Rosales, Buzzfeed 2017) and seeks to create pieces that will bring about more self-love. Rosales entered the art scene seeking to bring cultural and social awareness to one of the most underrepresented figures in history— the Black woman.
She sought to break the cultural barrier by using White Western Renaissance art as the basis for her works. Renaissance art is known internationally as a movement, and a time, of virtuoso artists such as Donatello, Titian, and Botticelli who sought to create art that would be immortalized and considered the height of their respective mediums. In using the works of these proclaimed greats, Harmonia Rosales is able to frame her work in a way that is recognizable yet shocking enough for one to stop and look. The artist creates Black Renaissance art!
Some would say that she is bastardizing the work of those greats but why? Is it because she is plagiarizing? Well, certainly not, every beginner to expert artist knows that “good artists borrow, [but] great artists steal” – said Pablo Picasso. The real problem is the subjects that she puts in the paintings. Her work is seen as controversial because she has no qualms with painting subjects such as a Black Virgin Mary but that isn’t even the height of controversy for those who criticize her work. She has marred out figures that represent white male authority and power and using their image to empower her own people. She seeks to bring awareness not just to the divine Black feminine but also the Black man and the contemporary struggles of all of her people through the masterpieces of the west.
Black Feminism and Its connotations
What makes Black Feminism different from the Feminism of the 1960s and ‘70s? It’s simple really, but it should first be stated that that specific movement was made by white women for white women, it was not an inclusive movement. But, what is so fascinating is that there are records of Black Feminism leading Black to the 1830s, beginning with the woman Sojourner Truth. She was an activist and considered the Foremother of Black Feminism.
“Black Feminism is an intellectual, artistic, philosophical, and activist practice grounded in Black women’s lived experiences. Its scope is broad, making it difficult to define. In fact, the diversity of opinion among Black feminists makes it more accurate to think of Black Feminisms in the plural” (Max Peterson 2019).
Black Feminism is so important because there is a disparity between the Civil Rights movement and the Feminist movement where Black women fall through the cracks. During the Civil Rights movement, Black men reigned over Black women despite those women being their confidants, their wives, their rocks. From being mothers to sisters, supporters, and lovers— Black women did it all and they did it with grace. Standing behind Black men in hopes that empowering them would help to further empower themselves in a world of not just racism but misogyny that persisted in their communities as well. As the nineteenth-century slogan for the National Association of Colored Women stated, Black women lift as they climb.
Then came the Feminist movement, allying itself only with those who had the privilege to be empowered. Black women were not seen as those worthy of seeking rights, like their white counterparts, but then again, they did not need a movement headed by white women to know their worth. Despite the extreme amount of Black Feminine erasure even within the confines of the Black diaspora their own movement and power persevered through the ages.
As said during her 2017 interview for the LA Times, her piece The Lioness, based on a German Porcelain Plaque called Woman w/ Lion, was the first piece of her B.I.T.C.H collection; she wanted it to exemplify a Black woman owning her power, independence, and strength. There is nuance in this piece in that the lioness hunted the lion, the representation of men, whilst being the provider even more so than the lion himself. Harmonia Rosales wants Black women to own that power and to understand that it is an integral part of who they are and to not be ashamed of their strength and fortitude. The artist shows that through her Black Renaissance art.
Religion and the Woman in Rosales’ Pieces – Black Renaissance Art
As previously mentioned, Harmonia Rosales has a special relationship with her Blackness and her womanhood. She depicts women as she does for the sake of her daughter, of course, but also for herself as an Afro-Cuban who grew up in a culture that did not value Blackness despite Cuba’s African ties. She made it her duty to depict women as more than The Virgin Mary or Eve— the mother or the disobedient object of men’s desire. Such is why the above image is a depiction of Eve as an innocent child, loved by the angels and cherished by her own mother— the mother Goddess or perhaps God as a woman.
The depiction of The Queen of Sheba next to King Soloman, in the painting previously shown, is a great example of conveying Black women as Black men’s equals in power and understanding. In the myth, it was said that The Queen visited Soloman for his wisdom and to see if the rumors of his stature were true, and upon seeing and hearing him out she was awed by him. Despite her being a queen herself, most visual depictions of The Queen of Sheba and King Soloman are of her subjugating herself before him. Not only that, they are both typically depicted as white, or fair, despite Sheba fairing from Ethiopia and Soloman being a Black Sub-Saharan. Once again, the heavy use of Black erasure and misogyny of Western works is rectified by Harmonia Rosales.
Rosales gives power back to the Black feminine and purifies age-old images that have been forced upon all women by creating her Black Renaissance art. Making women more than the mother and harlot— giving Black women, Black people, historical examples of their radiance, beauty, intellect, and power.
Harmonia Rosales used the traditional iconography of The Madonna in this painting in order to once again elevate the role of the Black Feminine but to also change the role of the woman in this overused religious depiction. No longer is she simply the mother of Christ. The Madonna is more in this work. She cultivates the life of the young while protecting them and imbuing them with a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of the world around them. She feeds them not with just her body but with her mind and unconditional love. She transforms the woman into a beacon of knowledge and protection, two concepts with which women were never allowed to be associated with.
Harmonia Rosales’ B.I.T.C.H. (Black Imaginary to Counter Hegemony) and Its Importance
Earlier, I mentioned that the Black Virgin Mary was not the most controversial piece of work in Rosales’ repertoire; her depiction of God as a Black woman was far more jarring to many. What is most shocking is that the image is that man is not being given consciousness by god but perhaps the opposite due to its namesake. Giving man an equivalency to god has always been a controversial idea all the way back to the reformation.
Before her Birth of Eve was the Creation of God, with both holding controversial ideologies but all the same bringing empowerment to the Black feminine. Harmonia Rosales’ B.I.T.C.H. collection sought to recast these pieces, with their antiquated depictions and ideologies; she wanted to open the floor to new discussion through old ideals and beliefs, with Black Renaissance art and Black women now at the forefront in a way they were never given the means to be.
Three words: the beauty standard. For tens of thousands of years, man has sought to establish an ideal beauty. From the Kalos men of ancient Greece to the yakshi sculpted on The Great Stupa at Sanchi, man has always grasped for an ideal. Leonardo da Vinci too sought to help depict man’s perfect proportions through the works of Vitruvius Pollio.
In Harmonia Rosales replacing the image of a white man with a Black woman, she is elevating Black feminine beauty to a form higher than art. It elevates the body of a Black woman to that of God’s image for man, as The Vitruvian Man is also known as the Canon of Proportions. Rosales shows her version of the famous work through her Black Renaissance art. Not only that, da Vinci created the Vitruvian Man with the idea that the human body is on par with the inner-workings of the universe; his piece was made with the cosmografia del minor mondo, or cosmography of the microcosm, in mind.
Rosales’ Virtuous Woman elevates the Black woman’s place not just in the world around us but in the universe.