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Tokie Rome-Taylor

Georgia Museum of Art

Walk into the museum’s H. Randolph Holder Gallery these days, and you’ll see an unexpected combination: three works by Atlanta-based contemporary artist Tokie Rome-Taylor in dialogue with colonial portraits.

Rome-Taylor explores identity and representation in her work through photography and mixed-media assemblage. She chooses children as her subjects to speak to a sense of belonging in society and how it begins in childhood. Historical representations of people of color often show them as stereotypical and inferior, but Rome-Taylor’s images reexamine history and tradition by countering these inaccurate portrayals.

Her most recent work incorporates family heirlooms to evoke connections and memories. She also uses fine fabrics, rich materials and the kind of layered directional lighting we see in Renaissance paintings, which generally did not show people of color. The clothing her figures wear features beading, embroidery, gold leaf and wax, inspired by decorative materials used in traditional West African culture.

As Rome-Taylor’s works reassert a Black presence in the history of the American portrait tradition, they make us look anew at the other works in this gallery, including “Portrait of a Lady in a Blue Dress” by John Singleton Copley from 1763. This loan from the Terra Foundation for American Art shows an aristocratic woman in a blue dress. The girl in Rome-Taylor’s “An so I stepped forward and discovered,” nearby, also wears a blue dress. The images speak to each other, making us think about who is pictured in most portraits and who is not.

You can see Rome-Taylor’s work at the museum through February 2025.