“Having one’s identity dismantled, marginalized, and regulated to non-human status demands action. This led me to critically engage image-making in art history and pop-culture, and ultimately grapple with whatever power and authority these images have over the female figure.” – Deborah Roberts, Artist Statement

Artist Deborah Roberts joins Hirshhorn senior curator Evelyn Hankins for a discussion on power, identity, and challenging cultural myths and stereotypes.

From her earliest encounters with “mythical, heroic, beautiful, and powerful” figures represented in paintings by Italian Renaissance artists and photographs in mass media, Roberts recognized that these images did not reflect her experience. Her art practice has built on this idea to investigate our country’s long history of racial injustices, particularly the ways in which identities are imagined and shaped by social and cultural constructions of beauty, masculinity, and racial stereotypes. Roberts is best known for mixed media collages that commingle found images with pen and acrylic drawings, creating figures that reflect the challenges encountered by young Black girls and boys—as well as the ways they are able to upend existing norms—in the midst of building their own identities. By collaging together different facial features, skin tones, hairstyles, and clothing, her artworks offer a more nuanced and inclusive representation of Black cultural experiences.

Roberts was recently a finalist for the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for 80 days (Nessun dorma series), a powerful depiction of fourteen-year-old George Stinney, Jr., the youngest person to have been executed in a US prison, having died by electric chair in 1944 for a murder that he did not commit. The work honors Stinney’s life and highlights the tragedy of injustice and violence that defined the Jim Crow era, yet it also remains emblematic of the continued injustices against African Americans who continue to lose their lives due to false accusations today.

This virtual event is part of Talking to Our Time. the Hirshhorn’s online series of free artist talks featuring a diverse group of artists and collectives. View all events!

This event is also part of #HirshhornInsideOut, the Museum’s initiative to bring art into your home.

This program will be recorded and made available following the event. You will find it on this page and on our YouTube channel.