A prompt, a parameter, a choreography, Black One Shot (b.O.s.) has been our ongoing concentration on the art of blackness. We value the complications, ambiguities, and ambivalences on which the art of blackness thrives. As we’ve said, our physics of black study amplifies the critical resonance of objects (centripetal) over the insistence on what objects must do (centrifugal). X = Object love + art of blackness criticism ≅ disassociate, distend, demand, refract, rejoice. Solve for X in no more than 1000 words.
b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2022 for five consecutive weeks. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Alexandra Kingston-Reese and Wiktoria Tunska.
—Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)
Harmonia Rosales’ The Creation of God (2017) speculates about the possibilities of the present, just as much as it depicts an origin narrative. Rosales originally shared an image of this painting on Instagram with a cryptic caption that read, “we all are created in ‘God’s’ image.’ One reading of this work might understand this earthbound human figure as a Black Eve with the pink gowned figure on the right as God. This reading aligns with an understanding of the painting as a resignification that critiques Judeo-Christian Euro-colonial/Western-patriarchal representations of God in Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam (1512). I argue however that Rosales’ resignification is a displacement and not merely a critique. Whereas Michelangelo’s Adam figure is rendered in the image of a white paternal God, reading The Creation of God through a Yoruba-diasporic framework suggests that God is a Black woman born of a womb-bearing matriarchal/feminine divinity.1 The painting thereby displaces Judeo-Christian representations of God.
Despite its beauty and Rosales’ skill, not all who gazed upon the piece took pleasure in it. When the piece went viral, some felt it was blasphemous and condemned Rosales for her engagement with Michelangelo’s fresco and her depiction of Black femininity in a Christian origin myth. As a result of the effects of “controlling images,” Michelangelo’s fresco and an imagined white-supremacist image of God that emboldened them, Rosales’ detractors attempted to malign both blackness and femininity.2 The painting intentionally, politically, and quite provocatively signifies on Michelangelo’s work as an example of Black feminist creative praxis. To that end, Rosales notes that she “wanted to take a significant painting, a widely recognized painting that subconsciously or consciously conditions us to see white male figures as powerful and authoritative and flip the script, establish a counter-narrative.”3 The Creation of God creates portals for alternative and empowering worldviews.4
The nude human-as-God figure in Rosales’ piece is at rest, labia visible, taking her leisure on an ambiguously rendered earth. Pert breasts invite the viewer to take as much pleasure in her form as she appears to take in the gentle sensuousness of her own creation. The muscular figure appears completely at home in her posture, wearing a crown of tight, black coiled hair against the aquatic blue hues of the background. The meeting of blue and cloud patterns bespeak water and sky, collapsing the metaphysical distinctions between the two. The shapes of the clouds move the viewer’s eye from the nude figure’s sinewy body, in rich shades of auburn, umber, hickory, and walnut brown, to the wind-swept white hair of her Creator.
The earth she rests atop appears golden, suggesting a rich ground, while the smooth brown skin bears what looks to be vitiligo. Here, the condition appears as light golden patches on the figure’s skin that are the same color as the womb structure on the right side of the plane. Here, the shades Rosales employs highlight a fluidity between the earth, the large cosmic womb, and humans as manifestations of the Divine/Cosmic.
On the right side of the canvas there is God’s Creator. The garment the Creator wears is pink, a shade lighter than the womb hold that surrounds her and her surrounding dominion of Black cosmic inhabitants. Pink is the primary color associated with the Orisha Obba, a prominent yet often overlooked Yoruba diety and archetype of Black femininity.5 With her aged and whitened hair, Obba represents the elder energy of the womb’s creative power. This womb hold is reminiscent of what theorist Marlo David recognizes as a “wombiverse” and a dynamic creative force. As David writes, “The idea of a wombiverse expands and reimagines women’s reproductive organs as sources of creative potential that include the potential to give birth but also the potential to create anything.”6 This wombiverse and the soft embraces shared between the figures on the canvas depict nurturing.7 However, the near-white coils of the Creator’s hair match the white of the sky; this figure is older and perhaps imbued with the wisdom of experience. According to myth, she is the Orisha that governs marriage and domestic affairs, is an extremely fierce warrior, a fearless protector of home and children, a patient teacher of writing and research, a bestower of great riches onto her children, and a place of respite for women suffering from deep pain. When Obba came to earth she brought the gifts of wisdom, rhythm, and prophecy. In Rosales’ piece, the Creator’s hair swept-back by her movement through the clouds hearkens to the patterns and flows that Obba brought to the world and to her children.8
Rosales’ piece leaves us with a series of questions. How might our dispossessed psyches be restored and what avenues might we take to reclaim possession of ourselves in this late-capitalist moment? Are Black women to accept this dispossession as an unchanging and ahistorical state of being that crystallizes our heartache into theories of emotional stagnation? Or, just as our Black feminist forebears left us tools to diagnose the problems of the West, what might our ancient ancestors have left us to mend our psychic anguishing?
The Creator as Obba and the human-as-God asks us to consider a Black femininity equipped with all that ancient ancestral/metaphysical knowledge. The rhythms depicted between these figures demonstrates what kind of ease is possible when the creation of the Universe mirrors the creation of ourselves. The Creation of God considers the promise and thrills of being a unique and powerful entity that is wholly connected to the cosmos precisely because (and not in spite of) our blackness and femininity.9
This is one of four essays from the twenty-first transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays from this transmission here:
Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie have been collaborating since 2017 come hell or high water. Lisa is Associate Professor of Art History at Whitman College and wrote Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (2015) and most recently, “Unknowing Wastelands in Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum.” Michael will start in the fall of 2022 as Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. He is author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (2016) and most recently, consulting producer for the Criterion Collection release of Shaft.
- According to Teresa N. Washington, “The traditional Yoruba social structure is centered on the protection of the divine dyad and the proliferation of Aje because the cosmic directive could not be clearer: And The objective of Aje is to create more Aje; in other words, the goal of the Gods is to create more Gods. This work, Mother’s ancient work, is the secret of life. Consequently, no matter the attacks engineered to destroy her, Mother and her wonder-working womb will be right here molding the heads of the Gods–gently, gently does she mold them.” (17) Teresa N. Washington, The Architects of Existence: Aje in Yoruba Cosmology, Ontology, and Orature (Decatur: Oya’s Tornado, 2014). See also Gail Collins, The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 37–63.
- As Patricia Collins notes, “Portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mamas has been essential to the political economy of domination fostering black women’s oppression. Challenging these controlling images has long been a core theme in Black feminist thought” (69). As these images recur they take on a naturalized quality that works to justify Black women’s oppression while positioning Black women as society’s ‘Other.’ This allows whiteness and maleness in particular to then be defined as powerful, authoritative, divine, valuable, and normal (70-71). Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2008).
- Michael Blackmon, “This Woman Reimagined Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation Of Adam’ With Black Women And It’s Beautiful,” BuzzFeed, (May 16, 2017): www.buzzfeed.com/michaelblackmon/god-is-a-black-woman.
- Mildred Europa Taylor, “Meet the Artist Who Received Backlash for Painting God as a Black Woman,” Face2Face Africa, March 30, 2019, https://face2faceafrica.com/article/meet-the-artist-who-received-backlash-for-painting-god-as-a-black-woman. We need not look any further than the creative work of Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, or Octavia Butler (Among others) to detect urgent calls for behavioral guidance (not surveilling/policing!) as well as creative, emotional, and psychological affirmation for Black women in the West. As the Combahee River Collective Statement famously proclaims, “The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated.” The Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement,” in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall (New York: The New Press, 1995), 236.
- My reading here is informed by yoruba-diasporic articulations of feminine Divinity (Aje, Odu, etc). As Theresa Washington explains, “Aje is elegant evidence of the completeness of Woman. From a matrix of wholeness and perfection, Odu reproduced herself as Odua, Oduduwa, Olorun, Iyami Osoronga, Onile, Olodumare, Iya Aye, Imole, Osumare, Osun, Obatala, Oya, Yemoja, and many more Gods. Indeed, every Yoruba Mother(ly) Orisa could be considered a unique manifestation of Odu, complete with her own pot of Aje, her own destiny, and her own dominion. (31) It is with Washington’s insights in mind that I read the pink-gowned figure as motherly Orisha Obba, a unique reproduction/manifestation of Odu (feminine Divine creative power) equipped with tools (her own pot of Aje) to perform her own creations of the Divine (humans). Washington, The Architects of Existence, 31.
- “[Erykah] Badu’s notion of queendom is linked to the term wombiverse, which she mentioned in an interview, stating: ‘I come from a long line of strong matriarchs. I live in a queendom, ruled by a womb-iverse.’ Badu’s wombiverse combines the words womb and universe to invoke a sense of expansiveness that is governed by women’s bodies, particularly the womb. The maternal implications of the emphasis on ‘womb’ should be clear, but I am particularly interested in what it means to conceive of this part of the body not as a bounded organ in the female body, but as an infinite source of creation” (107-9). Marlo D. David, Mama’s Gun: Black Maternal Figures and the Politics of Transgression (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2016).
- This aspect of the painting also aligns with David’s further insights that Erykah Badu’s “theory of the wombiverse incorporates a sense of selfhood as well as unity with others.” David, 108.
- With Obba’s presence and help, humans came to know the rhythms of the cosmos, the foresight it yields, and the peaceful wisdom birthed from those processes of seeing. As one of the more primordial/elder archetypes of femininity Yoruba cosmologies offer us, one of her primary roles in the lives of her children (humans) is as a site of behavioral guidance as well as creative, emotional, and psychological affirmation. Iyalosha Shango Didi Ogunleye, “Afrikana Ecosystem of Spirituality.” Lecture. (Ilesa Ayo, Marietta, Georgia, March 28, 2021).
- See Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred (New York: Bold Type Books, 2021).