Set in a domestic setting decorated to reflect the stylistic trends of the 1970s, Thomas infuses Naomi Looking Forward with memories of the wood-panelled living room of her childhood. She is reinventing experiences that exist only in memory, incorporating parts of her identity that inspire her into her work including: African textiles, African photography, and Yoruban art alongside canonical European art history. As a result, Thomas’ artistic output is deeply personal and tied to her own experiences as an African American woman. In this way, her work can be considered alongside contemporaries Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Wangechi Mutu whose collaged representations of the black female body similarly draw on their own experiences.
Through her deep understanding of art history, Thomas explores gender and race in her richly coloured and textured compositions. As stated by art critic Roberta Smith, Thomas’ portraits and reclining odalisques cover many bases: "aesthetic, political, art-historical and pop-cultural. Their sheer complexity makes them seem close to self-sufficient, secure in their ability to reach most viewers on one wavelength or another. They set the eye and brain whirring, parsing subversive meanings and quotations, skipping among mediums and savoring the contrasting surface textures, which include slatherings and smooth, enamel-like finishes and thin, brushy strokes...Above all, these works convey a pride of person that gives any viewer - not only women - an occasion to rise to" (Roberta Smith, ‘Loud, Proud and Painted’, The New York Times, September 2012, online).
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