Margaret Rose Vendryes investigates the role of race and gender identification within the African Diaspora, drawing from popular culture and art history to revisit and revise familiar views on beauty, ethnicity, agency, and power.
The African Diva Project series includes small square paintings inspired by record album covers that depict a wide range of black female music legends such as Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt and Tina Turner wearing African masks. Larger portraits are sourced from promotional materials such as album covers, CD liners, and product endorsement advertisements. Painted in richly textured and saturated oils, the backgrounds include music lyrics written into the paint by hand, and hand-carved African masks attached directly to the canvas. In Africa, the mask offers the primarily male masquerader power, agency, and celebrity. More than ever, popular female singers control what the color of their black skin represents in their public presentations, revealing how Africa influences the formation of public personae. Incorporating African masks as essential features of her paintings, Vendryes portrays female music legends as icons of exceptional power.
The African Diva Project Live!!! is a multi-media interactive installation that expands upon Vendryes’ paintings. Two changing rooms have been transformed into a backstage set where visitors can dress in a selection of gowns and African masks, choose music by women represented in The African Diva Project, and then step out onto a stage to bring their African Diva to life!