Davida Ingram on Susanna and the Elders

Davida Ingram on Susanna and the Elders

Davida Ingram on Susanna and the Elders

Listen to local artist Davida Ingram discuss how Robert Colescott's Susanna and the Elders connects to themes of the Figuring History exhibition.

Davida Ingram on Susana and the Elders

Davida Ingram on Susana and the Elders

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Transcript

Hi, my name is Davida Ingram. I'm a Seattle-based artist. I'm a writer. I'm a curator and I'm an educator.

I selected Robert Colescott's painting, Susanna and the Elders, also known as The Novelty Hotel, because I thought it was pretty germane to conversations about intersectional feminism.

So in this painting, the woman I notice has her eyes closed, and I feel like that a lot of times about white women, to be honest, that they have their eyes closed about the amount of power that they have in the world and how they factor into race. I would like to imagine that me and Robert Colescott are in cahoots. I would like to get to a space where we're not just talking about ending rape, but we're actually talking about loving women.



So when I look at the female figure, and I'm not really interested in centering white women, because there are a lot of women of color's voices we just haven't listened to. But in that painting, when I look at the figure and the way the men are thinking about her, she has her eyes closed, which could mean a lot of different things but I think it's a symbol of her innocence or being turned inward. And I do think regardless of whatever color a woman might be, that when you are naked or when you are vulnerable, that's a state that's very sacred and is, should be honored. And I think we can live in a world where women's divine femininity, our sensuality, who we are, when we unmask ourselves, gets honored. And in that painting, as I see it, indicates to us very clearly that is not happening. It's not even happening for the most privileged of women. So, you know it's not happening for the women who are not privileged at all.

I will hope in the 21st century, because again, this painting is happening in a very twentieth century context, when I think about the #MeToo movement, the thing that I find problematic is that it has been the woman with the most money and they've typically had been white who'd been centered. I know just from being in a working class, black girl who grew up on the south side of Chicago, there were all kinds of different ways that my sexual autonomy was threatened within my community, within dominant culture.

For someone like Robert Colescott, how is he thinking not about white women, but about black women and other women of color? Or is that something that I bring to the picture in the 21st century because it's the time to do so? What are the ways that you will consider the politics of how your gaze works when you look at women?

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Susanna and the Elders (Novelty Hotel), painted in 1980 by Robert Colescott. Acrylic on canvas. 7 feet tall by about 6 feet wide.

This is a painting of three men observing a naked white woman standing in a bathtub. The woman's peachy pink left leg hangs in the air as she steps out of a hot pink bathtub that extends from the left edge of the canvas towards the center, and her right arm pulls back a sheer blue shower curtain that reveals a yellow rubber duck floating in the aqua blue water. She is the largest figure in the scene, and her head peeks over the curtain rod. She has curly yellow shoulder-length hair and faces towards the left of the painting, but her blue eye shadowed eyes are closed, and her full red lips pursed and highlighted as though covered in a gloss.

In the upper left corner, a man's face with golden-tan skin, curly short grey hair, beard, and mustache, and brown round-rimmed eye glasses peers from a brown wooden-framed basement window tilted open into the bathroom below.

On the right side of the canvas, a black man with dark brown skin, full pink lips, and bushy grey eyebrows that match his curly white hair bends at his waist to look at the woman. He wears blue jeans, a white collared shirt bunched up to his elbows, a black tie, a white cap with a black brim, and white saddle shoes with black at the toe and heel. He holds the light wooden handle of a grey mop, which drips onto a puddle of water and bar of soap at the base of the tub at the bottom center of the picture. Behind him stands a bald white man whose pale skin contrasts with the red bathrobe he wears. He rests his left hand on the man's shoulder in front of him, looking in profile at the woman in the center with a long, bent nose and cigarette hanging out of his thin mouth. The two men fill two-thirds of the height of the canvas, along the right edge.

The words "Novelty Hotel" is written on a white bathmat in the lower left corner below the tub, and a matching hot pink toilet with a closed black toilet seat fills the lower right corner in front of the two men's feet. Yellow tile floor matches the yellow light streaming from a hanging single bulb with a crooked white shade to the right of the woman's head, and from the open window to her left. Two strings of hanging laundry—brown stockings, a pink girdle with straps—extend from the shower curtain rod, above the two men's heads, and to the top right corner of the canvas. Teal wallpaper with dashes of coral covers the background wall.

Now, here's an interpretive analysis of this artwork.

Hi, my name is Davida Ingram. I'm a Seattle-based artist. I'm a writer. I'm a curator and I'm an educator.

I selected Robert Colescott's painting, Susanna and the Elders, also known as The Novelty Hotel, because I thought it was pretty germane to conversations about intersectional feminism.

So in this painting, the woman I notice has her eyes closed, and I feel like that a lot of times about white women, to be honest, that they have their eyes closed about the amount of power that they have in the world and how they factor into race. I would like to imagine that me and Robert Colescott are in cahoots. I would like to get to a space where we're not just talking about ending rape, but we're actually talking about loving women.



So when I look at the female figure, and I'm not really interested in centering white women, because there are a lot of women of color's voices we just haven't listened to. But in that painting, when I look at the figure and the way the men are thinking about her, she has her eyes closed, which could mean a lot of different things but I think it's a symbol of her innocence or being turned inward. And I do think regardless of whatever color a woman might be, that when you are naked or when you are vulnerable, that's a state that's very sacred and is, should be honored. And I think we can live in a world where women's divine femininity, our sensuality, who we are, when we unmask ourselves, gets honored. And in that painting, as I see it, indicates to us very clearly that is not happening. It's not even happening for the most privileged of women. So, you know it's not happening for the women who are not privileged at all.

I will hope in the 21st century, because again, this painting is happening in a very twentieth century context, when I think about the #MeToo movement, the thing that I find problematic is that it has been the woman with the most money and they've typically had been white who'd been centered. I know just from being in a working class, black girl who grew up on the south side of Chicago, there were all kinds of different ways that my sexual autonomy was threatened within my community, within dominant culture.

For someone like Robert Colescott, how is he thinking not about white women, but about black women and other women of color? Or is that something that I bring to the picture in the 21st century because it's the time to do so? What are the ways that you will consider the politics of how your gaze works when you look at women?