Beyond the Boost: Jamea Richmond-Edwards reflects on her childhood in Detroit

Video produced by Maria Brito. Camera: Peter Koloff. Editing Maria Brito and Peter Koloff.

What do you do when you are trained as a painter and your main medium is oil, but as a mother of three you have to work from home for many years without the proper ventilation system to dissipate the fumes of turpentine? For Jamea Richmond-Edwards, the solution came with resourcefulness and ingenuity.  The sculptural quality of the faces in her work, all rendered in ballpoint pen on paper, were an answer to one of her dilemmas: “ink provided a similar permanence to oil - it isn’t fluid, but I love the rawness of it.”  If one looks up close at any of these portraits, the word “rawness” doesn’t come to mind - the faces made by Richmond-Edwards look as if they were in 3-D; their eyes gaze back at their spectator with defiance and determination. A second inventive solution gave birth to the collages that form the bodies of her subjects, a combination of layered paper in hundreds of different patterns and colors mimicking textiles are glued onto canvases with backgrounds made of glitter, acrylic and spray paint.

Richmond-Edwards pays homage to her upbringing on the west side of Detroit off of 7-Mile Road, a time that was permeated with a lavish dress-up culture turned up to the nth degree with the advent of hip-hop figures such as Biggie Smalls, Ice Berg and Puff Daddy.  She confesses herself a fan of Coogi sweaters, the Australian brand whose kaleidoscopic knits inspired by intricate aboriginal art were popularized by rappers of the 90s. “The collages were a reappearance of an interest and fascination I have with fashion. This flamboyancy is inspired by my mother and the women in my family”. In Detroit, people used fashion as escapism, as the ultimate way of expressing oneself, of asserting power through clothes.  These garments could sometimes be the real thing, sometimes they were knock-offs.  There is a nod here to the “boostin” culture (a practice of buying fake clothes and accessories and selling them at hair salons or in the booster’s homes), which was common in Detroit 20 years ago and what made Dapper Dan an infamous character in Harlem in the 90s and a darling of high-end brands today.

For Art Basel, Richmond-Edwards will have an entire gallery with a group of her new paintings at the Rubell Family Collection as part of the “New Acquisitions” exhibit.

The rest of this story appears in the December issue of Cultured Magazine.