Sexuality, Black Female Identity & Empowerment from Mickalene Thomas

African American BLM Manet Mickalene Thomas PRIDE SPECIAL Women Empowerment


Something that we strongly believe in, is in women empowerment and lifting each other up! An artist that truly embodies this belief through her art is Mickalene Thomas.

In her texturally rich paintings, the Artist examines the popular characterization of celebrities like painters Edouard Manet & Henri Matisse, sexuality and black female identity (especially issues around African-American gay and lesbian identities...). 

1. Photo by Avery Jensen.


In an interview with Art Basel, Mickalene Thomas stated “The gaze of my work is unapologetically a black woman's gaze loving other black women''. -Simply bold and admirable! 

This Yale-trained Artist also takes inspiration in her work from different movements and popular moments in art history, such as: cubism, Dada, Harlem renaissance, and especially Impressionism.



Mickalene Thomas likes to use a diverse range of materials, especially acrylics and enamels, and sometimes she incorporates aspects like collaging in her work. Her exploration of different materials was born during her times of need, when she was a struggling art student that couldn't always afford to buy oil paint for her was through this situation that she began to explore other means to create her art without limiting herself! 

2. Photo by the Seattle Art Museum 

In her Artwork for the Seattle Art Museum's “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires” in which Thomas explores Manet's famous painting “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” seen through the eyes of an African American female, she portrays three black women, fully dressed, staring out at the viewer. 

Manet's painting depicts two fully dressed white men, picnicking with a nude women, while another woman is picking something in the background.

The imbalance between the men, fully dressed on Manet's painting, while the women are completely naked, unintentionally represents the gender imbalance, associated with gender roles, that exists in society to this day. It seems like Mickalene challenges our outlook of this imbalance, by empowering the females on the painting.

Édouard Manet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Mickalene Thomas has challenged the authority of the male gaze through art history. The Artist has been heavily praised by critics, and is one of this generation's most inspired voices!  

The females in her artwork are in charge of their sexuality and the Artist challenges us to observe the stereotypes that society has granted women such as docile, inferior, quiet and obedient creatures; and at the same time, as subjects to be sexualized.

Generally speaking, it seems like the women in her work are almost exclusively African American women, as a means to portray and empower black femininity. But she also leaves us, the viewers, questioning our outlook on what is the meaning of beauty and how the western media has dictated what beauty looks like. 

Thomas definitely encourages us to take charge of our sexuality and  challenges the labels that society has been taking through her art!


 Blog Author: Isabela Gaya
 Blog Editor: VIII

Featured image. C-Monster, Mickalene Thomas (CC BY-NC 2.0)

1. Photo by Avery Jensen. CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
2. Seattle Art Museum. (ND). Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas - Seattle Art Museum. Retrieved from
3. Martin Beek, 'Dejeuner sur l'herbe' by Manet (CC BY 2.0)
Murray, Derek Conrad ( 2014). "Mickalene Thomas". retrieved from

The Editors of ArtNews (2018). From the Archives: Mickalene Thomas on Why Her Work Goes ‘Beyond a Black Esthetic,’ in 2011. Retrieved from

Art Basel (2019). Meet the Artists | Mickalene Thomas. Retrieved from