Painter Makes Beautiful Past for Black Women

<i>The Ants, 2011,&nbsp;24 x 18 in&nbsp;</i>
The Ants, 2011, 24 x 18 in 

Recently, I saw Elizabeth Colomba's work at the Long Gallery in Harlem,'The Moon is My Only Luxury '.

It was not only beautiful, but highly emotional, as black women are often portrayed in a limited context with a restricted history; this artwork enlarges their cultural equation by quantum leaps. The response was arresting as Colomba explained. “Women walked into the gallery and cried. It changed so much for them, it lifted their hearts.” The very excellent curator Monique Long states that “Colomba’s portraits of women, featuring oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings from 1997 to the present, draw upon American history, mythology, religious symbols, and the sacred feminine mystic to create an aesthetic vocabulary that distinguishes her work within the canon of black mastery and history painting.” 

When she could only find two books in her local library with pictures of women that exemplified her own likeness, it stirred something up in her soul, thus giving rise to her painters’ voice and direction as an artist.

In Colomba’s "Sempre Libera" (Italian for “always free”) she portrays Matilda Sissieretta Jones, a splendid opera singer with bravura to spare. Colomba paints her with spot-on ecstasy as she receives accolades, and resounding curtain calls during the late 1800s at Carnegie Hall. The title of the painting is taken from the aria in La Traviata sung by the character of Violetta. In rich warm tones Colomba animates Jones, raising her arms , holding her shawl up in her hands as though she is a super hero; with cape aloft and eyes closed as she is  “heard” as a star graced with impeccable ability, vibrant and majestic.

My absolute favorite is 'The Ants,' The color, balance, and character of this work is exquisite, opulent and rich with a beautiful pregnant woman in an abundant striking mustard colored gown with Autumn colored accents, walking across the floor as she might in a fairytale, depicting a life of indolence and luxury.

In Delilah, Colomba presents the biblical character luxuriant in bed, in the darkness, giving way to light, or possibly the other way around. Though her face is undefined, her environment is not, she lays erotically in wait for Samson with scissors resting on a table, not far from her grip; the bed bedecked with sumptuous red velvet curtains, in the background a richly hued, earthy Middle Eastern carpet highlights her deep dark skin.

Daphne speaks to the Greek mythological figure who was loath to accept the love of Apollo and though she begged her father the river god, Ladon, for help, he rebuked her by turning her into a Laurel tree. Colomba portrays her right before the transformation.   

<i>Daphne, 2015 &nbsp;36 x 24 in</i>
Daphne, 2015  36 x 24 in

 I am white, and I too felt emotional, as I thought of all the amazing black women in the world and how if history had been kinder, what that would have meant to them. Would their lives have been different?  As a friend, sister, and witness to the individuality of black women and to the collective pantheon of the African American feminine, this survey of "another kind of life", embraces and embellishes the identity of Black women. The wounds which lie beneath their psyche for being categorized as one thing or another might have been circulated under a different moniker than slavery & the subsequent cultural experience of nanny or housekeeper -- until the scope of resolve to expand took over, offering a larger landscape during the past few decades, and continues on a vast course of international recognition which cannot be halted or ignored.

Since the past is prologue, I invite you to think about that for a moment and allow Elizabeth Colomba to take you to another place and time. It is a wonderful journey.

Bio: Elizabeth Colomba is from France, of Martinican descent, and lives and works in New York City. Born and raised in Épinay-sur-Seine, she received a degree in applied art from the Estienne School of Art, and also studied at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Her work has been exhibited at the California African American Museum, Los Angeles; the Balthus Grand Chalet, Switzerland; the International Biennial of Contemporary Art (BIAC), Martinique, and Fondazione Biagiotti Progetto Arte, Florence.

Now at the Long Gallery in Harlem

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