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Mickalene Thomas
Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires
woodblock on paper, silkscreen on paper, and photographic elements
Framed: 38 1/4 × 80 1/2 inches (97.2 × 204.5 cm)
Mixed Media
Credit Line
Museum purchase
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This large-scale print composed of photographic, woodblock, and silkscreen elements directly references Gustave Courbet’s highly sensual painting Le Sommeil (The Sleepers), 1866. Courbet’s painting shocked viewers during the nineteenth century with its brazen depiction of lesbianism. As a gay artist of color interested in issues of femininity, Mickalene Thomas updates Courbet’s theme as a normalization of homosexual love and returns power and sexual agency to her subjects.

This particular print originated from a small photographic collage that was also the basis for her prominent painting of the same subject. Thomas reimagined the scene with two African American women embracing on a pile of patterned textiles in a landscape composed from photographs of Thomas’s trip to Africa. Because their pose is so intimate, the openness of the landscape around them takes on a dream-like quality.

The collage process is extremely pronounced in Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, as evidenced by the electric pink zig-zags that fracture the surface of the print. The collection of disparate photographs, prints, colors, and textures mirrors Thomas’s own desire to incorporate elements from a wide range of influences. She has noted that this particular work has similarities to landscapes by British painter David Hockney (b. 1937), but the work could also claim inspiration from American collagist Romare Bearden, Malian photographer Seydou Keita, and the nineteenth-century Hudson River Painters.