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Harmonia Rosales: Black Femininity in Classical Artworks

Meet Harmonia Rosales, the Afro-Cuban American artist based in Chicago who is causing a buzz in the art world with her re-imagined classical works of art with Black Femininity.

“Replacing the white male figures — the most represented— with people I believe have been the least represented can begin to recondition our minds to accept new concepts of human value. … If I can touch even a small group of people and empower them through the power of art, then I’ve succeeded in helping to change the way we see the world. … And when you consider that all human life came out of Africa, the Garden of Eden and all, then it only makes sense to paint God as a black woman, sparking life in her own image.”

“The Creation of God” by Harmonia Rosales. Image via Instagram.

These are just some of her thoughts when she talks about her now viral piece, The Creation of God. As you can see from the image above, it is an interpretation based on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (c. 1508–1512) from the Sistine Chapel in Rome (below).

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, ca. 1512

Rosales told BuzzFeed that she wanted to take widely recognized painting showing white men as the central figures of authority, and “flip the script,” adding, “White figures are a staple in classic art featured in major museums. They are the ‘masters’ of the masterpieces. Why should that continue?”

In a recent video that Buzzfeed also featured her in, she mentions the reasoning for her artwork was for her daughter. “I wanted her to accept herself, her fro, everything,” Rosaels says.

“When I create my work, I create it for her so she sees the beautiful Venus as a black woman with natural hair.”

The Birth of Oshun

With her daughter’s self-acceptance as her guide, Rosales aims to give all black women and women of color artworks that reflects their beauty that has been ignored for so long.

It’s no secret that a lot of the artworks in art history were created in the Western world view, where you have the main characters represented in a fair, light-skinned race. The art history books even go into detail about how a Madonna is represented with a “milky white” and “porcelain” skin. A person of color in classical paintings are always represented as the lower, poor working class, usually maids or slaves. What Harmonia is doing with her paintings is not copying the sacrilegious scenes, but deconstruct and establish a counter narrative as to who and what we consider powerful and authoritative. For example, in The Birth of Oshun Harmonia offers the benevolent and venerated Yoruba goddess of fertility, sensuality, and prosperity. In the mid 1480s Sandro Botticelli gave us The Birth of Venus where the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and fertility is represented as a Western European.

Of course, with such powerful representational artworks that Harmonia is creating, it’s obvious that she inevitably receives backlash from conservative religious folks. But Harmonia is not giving up:

“Although it hurt me, it also encouraged me that I need to keep going. This is what art should be about, it should bring change; you should use your talent to empower and I am so glad that my work is doing that.”