Tomashi Jackson artwork views America through systemic racism

The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA) presents the first mid-career survey of Tomashi Jackson, providing an expansive look at the multimedia artist’s research-based practice and trademark use of layering and color to confront issues of social justice. The exhibition charts Jackson’s exuberant painterly approach across media, revealing the physical means by which the artist examines structural systems of oppression and violence employed against Black and Indigenous peoples throughout U.S. history.

Opened on February 10 and on view through June 2, 2024, Tomashi Jackson: Across the Universe has been organized by Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and is being enhanced with expanded programming for presentation at the ICA.

“Tomashi’s creative practice meaningfully aligns with the mission and program of ICA, which is dedicated to foregrounding the work of bold and experimental artists who draw from history to better understand the present, challenge the status quo, and forge a new future,” Zoë Ryan, Daniel W. Dietrich II Director of the ICA Philadelphia, said. “As the institution enters our 60th anniversary season, it is fitting to be showcasing an artist whose work seamlessly intertwines poignant social commentary with innovative explorations of traditional artistic practices, including color theory and collage.”

Born in Houston and raised in Los Angeles, Jackson began her art career creating community murals in California. Her early work focused on depicting the lives of domestic laborers working in informal economies. In 2013, the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin marked an important shift in her practice to return to painting and interrogating histories of violence against Black children and teenagers.

“Tomashi is an artist who radically pushes the boundaries of painting, challenging the conventional two-dimensions of the media to expand it, quite literally, into new spaces,” Hallie Ringle, Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator of the ICA Philadelphia, who is organizing the exhibition at the ICA, said. “Conceptually, her work also pushes us, with layers of meaning and archival images that encourage us to confront discriminatory laws and policies in our history. The exhibition resonates especially within the historical context of Philadelphia, a city deeply entrenched in issues of racial and social justice.”

Over the course of her career, Jackson has sought to reveal how systemic racism has informed the United States’ approach to such fundamental issues as education, housing, and transportation as well as underrecognized histories of civil rights advocacy and empowerment in marginalized communities. Inspired by Josef Albers’ research on the relativity of color, Jackson employs image layering and the effects of light and perception as well as geometric abstraction and halftone lines to illuminate patterns of resistance and societal advances.

Across the Universe features over 30 artworks from the past decade, placing examples of the artist’s projected time-based videos, which the artist considers “moving paintings,” in dialogue with paintings and sculptures that articulate how Jackson’s use of color and conceptual layering translates across these mediums.

Many recent paintings, such as Press and Curl (Black and Brown People’s Mortgage Free Homes) open up traditional boundaries of painting and are supported by awning structures, layered with strips of vinyl that extend out from the walls toward the viewer. Others, such as States’ Rights (Brown et al. vs The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas) (Limited Value Exercise)) are comprised of textiles, industrial material such as PVC marine vinyl fabric, and found ephemera suspended from rods or held by other armatures that more subtly extend into the gallery and viewer’s space.

Framed photographic portraits, screen prints, and music-based video work round out the exhibition, along with three commissioned paintings and a video inspired by Jackson’s time in Colorado during the summer of 2022.

“Tomashi Jackson’s artworks thoughtfully explore public narratives of educational access, transportation, housing, voting rights, law enforcement, livelihood migration, labor, and land rights,” Miranda Lash, Ellen Bruss Senior Curator at MCA Denver, said. “Her engaging and nuanced approach to U.S. history situates her as one of the most relevant artists practicing today.”

About Tomashi Jackson

Tomashi Jackson (born 1980 in Houston, Texas) was raised in Los Angeles, California. She received her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art in 2016, her Master of Science in Art, Culture and Technology from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning in 2012, and her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 2010.

Recent solo exhibitions of Jackson’s work include exhibitions at Roy R. Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase, the Parrish Art Museum, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Her artworks are in museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; and the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Jackson lives and works in Cambridge, MA, and New York City.

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