Pepper Jelly Lady Remixed, 2012 by Paula Wilson
I saw my first Romare Bearden collage at Washington University in St. Louis’s Kemper Art Museum. There was BlackVenus (c. 1968) sprawled on a patchwork couch in a room full of color, music and booze. I was transfixed not only by Bearden’s masterful design, but also by the world he depicts. Looking at a Bearden makes me dream of being inside one: I want to dance to his music and walk down his streets, I want to be the ladies bathing by the fire or lounging in the garden. I find even his most downtrodden and base representations of life alluring. There is a palpable energy bursting from Bearden’s oeuvre that renders all life exciting and vital.
When The Studio Museum in Harlem asked me to participate in The Bearden Project, I saw the opportunity to enter his world. In fact, this wasn’t much of a stretch. His depictions of the African-American rural Southern experience in many ways match my life in Carrizozo, New Mexico (in particular ThePepperJellyLady (c. 1980). Bearden’s iconic vocabulary is tangible to me—chickens and a rooster, a wood-burning stove, two fan-tailed pigeons, jazz on demand and a train blasting through town. In 2012, I, a modern black woman, can choose a life profoundly removed from the servitude of the past, yet still be closely connected to its visual exuberance.