not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017)
Brenda P, 1974

Barkley Hendricks painted life-size portraits of African Americans, often friends and neighbors from the communities where he lived in Philadelphia and Connecticut. This work depicts Brenda Payton, the lead singer of a popular Philadelphia R&B group, Brenda and the Tabulations. She stands facing us, her hands on her hips, weight resting on her right foot—a pose known in art history as contrapposto. This assertive stance, coupled with her stare from behind rose-tinted sunglasses, simultaneously acknowledges and disregards the viewer, an ambivalence that conveys Brenda's unflappable confidence.

Brenda's pose, attitude and fashionable clothes stand out against the monochrome background. Hendricks used this uniform ground to highlight his portrait subjects, removing them from their everyday contexts and elevating them into embodiments of hipness. Although he frequently disavowed any political intent behind his work, his choice to represent Brenda P as an intense, cool and stylish Black woman was a powerful statement in itself. She stands before Hendricks, and the viewer, demanding to be seen and acknowledged on her own terms.

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