KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, many mansions, 1994
Many Mansions comes from Marshall's series, Gardens, where Marshall highlights the irony of public housing titles having the word garden in it like, Wentworth Gardens, in Chicago. As we know, public housing is far from looking like or smelling like a garden.
The red banner at the top of this painting says, "In my mother's house there are many mansions," possibly playing off the bible verse from John 14:2 when Jesus says there are many rooms in his father's house.
I wonder if Marshall is hinting at a deeper meaning behind that phrase. Is he alluding to public housing being sort of like a mansion? Or is he speaking to the amount of space his mother (a Black woman) has for others? Like, the single mother. Which I like to think is recognizing the amount of space Black women have had to make for others, even though we have been given so little. When looking at the apartment complexes in the background, is there a parallel between too many people in one space and the Black woman's ability to create more space for others even when there is none?
Looking at the bottom half of the painting, there are three black men, in crisp white shirts, black dress pants, and ties, gardening in front of these apartment complexes. There is a sort of irony there too. Black people have been in service roles since arriving to this country. We have been responsible for making things look clean and nice when they are extremely ugly. We have been burdened with this absurd routine of "keeping up an appearance," an appearance that hardly reflects the environments we live in. Many Mansions to me, can also symbolize the beautification of the harsh realities Black people face everyday.
Either way, this painting is a think piece and can mean whatever you want it to mean.
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