Chicago-based painter, Harmonia Rosales, painted her own version of Michelangeloâ€™s work in 2017, reimagining God and the First Man as black women, she received a lot of backlashes.Â
If you are familiar with Michelangeloâ€™s masterpiece, â€œThe Creation of Adamâ€, you would agree that it is one of the most famous works of art ever created.Â
Rosalesâ€™s work, â€œThe Creation of Godâ€, â€œriffs on Michelangeloâ€™s portrayal of Godâ€™s creation of Earthâ€™s first human, Adam.
â€œBut her version depicts the deity not as a white-haired white man, but as a black woman, reaching out to touch another, younger black woman,â€ reported the New York Post.
When she posted the iconic painting online, it attracted thousands of likes on social media â€“ Twitter and Instagram â€“ but it also sparked controversy. Critics described Rosalesâ€™ artwork as â€œdisgustingâ€, a â€œcultural appropriationâ€, and a â€œdesecration of an artistic masterpiece.â€
For someone who wants to see her identity as a woman of colour represented in art, Rosales at the time said: â€œI wanted to take a significant painting, a widely recognised painting that subconsciously or consciously conditions us to see white male figures as powerful and authoritative and flip the script, establish a counter-narrative.â€
â€œWhite figures are a staple in classic art featured in major museums. They are the â€œmastersâ€ of the masterpieces. Why should that continue?â€
â€œWhen you consider that all human life came out of Africa, the Garden of Eden and all, then it only makes sense to paint God as a black woman, sparking life in her own image,â€ she added.
Nevertheless, the idea of a black female God got many angry, with some even demanding why she had based her painting on Michelangeloâ€™s work rather than coming up with something new.
Growing up, Rosales, who calls herself a self-taught artist, took classes and got herself admitted to the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts.
She said people were never sure of her ethnicity.
â€œTheyâ€™d ask, â€˜Are you part Asian? Where did you come from?â€™ â€¦ I was like, â€˜Well, Iâ€™m Cuban and Iâ€™m Black too.â€™ I always had to figure out what I say to people,â€ she told OZY in an interview.
This formed the basis for her kind of painting, with the sole aim to clear all doubts.
â€œI paint my subjects darker because I donâ€™t want you to mistake them for anything other than this pure form of where we came from,â€ she said.
Rosales had her first solo show, Black Imaginary to Counter Hegemony (B.I.T.C.H.), at Los Angelesâ€™ Simard Bilodeau Contemporary in September 2017. It featured seven pieces, including the controversial The Creation of God, and sold out in a week.
Rosales had earlier thought of backing down following the racist comments that followed her 2017 The Creation of God, but her mother talked her out of it.
â€œHaving never really felt that unfiltered racism, I thought about stopping.
â€œWhen I became really sad about the comments, my mother said, â€˜Thatâ€™s going to make you an artist. The controversy. I was waiting for that.â€™â€
Her mother, Melodye Benson Rosales, was an artist herself, who had dared to write and illustrate Twas the Night Bâ€™fore Christmas, featuring a Black Santa Claus in 1996. She had done same for Leola and the Honeybears:An African-American Retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in 1999, according to OZY.
Rosales, who had never thought about the importance of issues of colour, had a change of mind when she had her first daughter. Till date, the 34-year-old mother of two said her children are the reason she is a painter as they make her focused. She has also learnt to deal with negative responses to her work.
â€œItâ€™s inspiring because whether the comments are negative or positive it creates dialogue and provokes thought. I learn from the comments. We are all still learning who we are and how we define ourselves. I gain wisdom from everything,â€ she told Dazed in an interview.
To critics of her 2017 The Creation of God, the Chicago-native said:
â€œA woman is a woman: Black, white or any colour,â€ she told BET.
â€œWe have been taught that God created â€˜manâ€™ in his own image. [But] in fact, we have created God in our own image. So â€˜Godâ€™ is whoever we want God to be, a representation of the ideal, of the divine, of wisdom and love and pure creativity. Letâ€™s face it, creativity, starting with the womb, is a female attribute,â€ she said.Â