KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, many mansions, 1994
Many Mansion is a part of Marshall's series, Gardens, a series where Marshall highlights the name of public housing buildings in Chicago that include the word "garden" in it like, Wentworth Gardens. It is no secret that public housing is far from looking or smelling like any 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 digging into something deeper with this particular verse. Is he alluding to public housing, in a way, are just a set of many mansions? Is he speaking about the amount of space his mother (a Black woman) has for others?
If we think about how small public housing apartments, who lives in them, and the verse, could Marshall be alluding to his own mother? When I think about this verse I think about the amount of space Black mothers make for other people, both mentally and physically (in their homes). Does Marshall recognize the amount of space Black women make for others, even when there isn't much to make? Are single Black mothers the main demographic that make up public housing in these inner cities?
When looking at the apartment complexes in the background, I wonder, is there a parallel between too many people in one space and Black women's ability to create more space for others even when there is none (there are many rooms in my father's house)? Is Marshall saying that God is a Black woman?
And my mind runs off....
When we look at the bottom half there are three Black men, in crisp white shirts, black dress pants, and ties, tending to a garden in front of the public housing buildings. There seems to be some irony there too don't you think? Like the history of Black people in service roles. It seems like Black people are often responsible for tidying things up for and after others, constantly making things look nice (including themselves, being professionally dressed) when in reality those same things (realities) are extremely ugly.
Black people have been burdened with the absurd routine of keeping up an appearance, an appearance that hardly reflects the environments they live in. I think there is something there. I think about the title, Many Mansion. DO these Black men appear to really be working on a garden in front of these public housing apartments or perhaps the help at a mansion? of "looking nice" or "dressing professionally" while Many Mansions to me, also symbolize the beautification of harsh realities Black people must uphold everyday.
This painting is a think piece and can mean whatever you want it to mean.
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