At first glance, Jamea Richmond-Edwards’ portraits suggest an unvarnished celebration of the black female aesthetic. There are dresses fashioned after couture gowns and a painted pitch of blackness that is both proud and carefree. But Richmond-Edwards’ women, including her recent show of self-portraits, titled, The Cost of Making Her Run: Fear, Flight, Freedom, are all a byproduct of the crack cocaine epidemic that swept across black American communities in 1980s. They represent an iridescent glamor achieved through watching her relatives struggle with crack addiction, as well as what the artist calls, “the power of redemption.”
"All of my work thus far has been autobiographical,” says Richmond-Edwards, who grew up in Detroit. “It has been about me and the women in my family I watched struggle with substance abuse. I’m an 80s baby and I am a product of that era,” she tells The Creators Project. “Both of my parents were drug addicts and several of my aunts and uncles were drug addicts,” she adds. “The women are still queens to me despite their addictions.”
Richmond-Edwards’ first body of portraits specifically honors her mother and a slain aunt who both battled drug addiction. The series of drawings show the women stylized in the way in which she saw them—shrines to their circumstances. “My goal is not to uplift the subject, but simply to reveal a truth that exists within the reality of those I am inspired by,” notes Richmond-Edwards. “The subjects are physically beautiful; however there is a pain that resonates deep within which makes each one strikingly human,” she explains in an artist statement. In the painting It Could Be A Sad Story, the expression the figure bears is one that seems realistic even amidst fantastical surroundings. The pain of addiction is present but the figure's stance signals a survival. The fanciful dresses found on figure in Praise Me and Ain’t Nothing Raggedy About This are meant to evoke the ways in which the women saw themselves despite the contradictions of their situations. The work points to a humanity that is often lost during the cultural conversation surrounding addicts and addiction.
The body of work that Richmond-Edwards exhibited during her recent show, The Cost of Making Her Run: Fear, Flight, Freedom, at the N’Namdi Center For Contemporary Art in Detroit gets even more personal. “This particular body of work is about me confronting my fears about being a black artist in the art world and being afraid of obscurity,” she says. The show is influenced by artist Kerry James Marshall’s use of blackness as a state of visibility. In works like If You Look Closely, You WIll See God and Cost of Making Her Rise, the black-on-black pigmentation of the figures and their surroundings speak to the challenges the artist faces being both female and raised during the American crack epidemic in the art world.
“This work is about my story and how the crack era for some is American as basketball and apple pie," Richmond-Edwards says. “Interestingly you don’t hear that era talked about in art and for me it’s important to examine this story because it affected an entire generation of people,” she adds, “My story is apart of the great American narrative, too.”
To learn more about Jamea Richmond-Edwards work, click here.