KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, many mansions, 1994
Many Mansions comes from Marshall's series, Gardens, where Marshall makes note of public housing buildings with names that include the word garden in it like, Wentworth Gardens, in Chicago. As we know, public housing is far from looking like 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 that verse. Is he alluding that public housing, in a way, are 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 are and think about the verse, doesn't Black women make "many rooms" physically and emotionally? 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 house)? Is Marshall saying Black women are God?
And my mind runs off....
But that's only the top half of the painting. When we look at the bottom half there are three Black men, in crisp white shirts, black dress pants, and ties, gardening in front of the public housing buildings. There seems to be a sort of irony there too don't you think? Like the history of Black people in service roles. It seems like Black people are always responsible for tiding things up for and after others, always in the role to tidy things up, make it look nice (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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