The exhibition “Mickalene Thomas: Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman” brings together photographic portraits and film works, both featuring Thomas’s longtime muse, her mother Sandra Bush, or “Mama Bush,” as she refers to herself. Though Thomas was trained as a painter, receiving both a BFA (Pratt, 2000) and MFA (Yale, 2002) in the subject, photography and film are important parts of her portfolio. The large-scale photographic portraits included in the exhibition, which runs through October 19, 2014 in Project Gallery at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York, are complex, colorful portraits. In the film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, Bush discusses her childhood in Camden, New Jersey, struggles with domestic violence and drug abuse, her career as a model in the 1970s, as well as current issues like aging and illness. “At the same time, the mother-daughter bond and its significance for each woman’s sense of self is shown to be rich ground for Thomas’s creativity,” Eastman House says in a press release about the exhibition. “The result is a poignant work that feels both personal and universal.”
Thomas is represented by Lehmann Maupin in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and Galerie Nathalie Obada in Paris. Her work is included in various public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, The Art Institue of Chicago, The Studio Museum of Harlem, Taschen Collection and Yale University.