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This limited edition print of the African Diva Project painting featured here is of the famous R&B disco diva Grace Jones. She is wearing an Igbo mask. Each square canvas in the African Diva Project is modeled after a 12-inch LP album cover featuring a portrait of a popular black female soloist. Every Diva wears an African mask, chosen for its character and/or aesthetic compatibility to her image. In Africa, masks (many depicting powerful female deities or ancestors) are worn almost exclusively by men. These dynamic female performers are given agency and protection replacing their psychological mask with a literal one. Songs - messages that once rose out of vinyl channels like black magic - are inscribed in the space that surrounds them. Side One of the project includes 33 1/3 paintings. Side two is in progress.
Margaret Rose Vendryes was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1955, before moving to New York City as a small child. Vendryes attended Amherst College and eventually went on to be awarded a doctorate in art history. Best known for her collection of iconic black women wearing African masks: The African Diva Project. The Project includes images representing a range of Black female music legends including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nancy Wilson, Grace Jones, and Tracy Chapman - each wearing an African tribal mask. Each diva is painted in richly textured, saturated oils. Each canvas is a square, inspired by an actual 12-inch album cover featuring a full-figure portrait of the soloist. Vendryes overlays traditional African iconography with contemporary music icons to make a provocative statement about the perspective, agency, and influence of Black women in American culture. Drawing on her life experience and her academic background in art history, she channels both the heart of the African Diaspora and the sensibility of modern African-American women. Her work uses seductively familiar icons to explore evolving views on beauty, gender, race, and power.