In her questioning practice, Dana Robinson explores youth, Black female identity, ownership and nostalgia
Dana often works with found imagery from Ebony Magazine to “highlight the idea of upward mobility and a growing Black middle class.”
- Ruby Boddington
- 2 October 2020
With a background in both graphic design and art, Dana Robinson’s practice sits at a fascinating intersection. She understands the power of combining imagery and text and the cultural and social connotations that come along with doing so, but she also embodies a freedom of expression often lacking in graphic design, meaning Dana’s portfolio errs towards abstraction and conceptual investigations. The onus of these investigations is on youth, Black female identity, ownership and nostalgia, topics she explores by combining, reproducing and deconstructing vintage materials, found objects and paint.
Currently based in New York, a city she’s called home since graduating from the School of Visual Arts with an MFA in fine art in 2019, Dana tells us she’s simply never been interested in being anything other than an artist. “Art, and the process of making things has always been the primary way that I am able to process, and understand the world,” she explains. It was at SVA that her unique practice formed, as she explored “digital art, web, fashion, 3D design and printmaking on top of painting and drawing” during her undergrad in graphic design.
It means Dana’s practice today is multifaceted, something which allows her to pull from a history of signals, references and symbols to “draw out emotions and memories we may have forgotten we had.” This often sees her working with found imagery from Ebony Magazine that “highlight[s] the idea of upward mobility and a growing Black middle class.” By utilising a language of humour and familiarity, Dana opens up “complex spaces of laughter and irony, while retaining an empathetic quality.” All this means she can communicate elaborate concepts in understated ways, drawing viewers in before opening up to them.
One example of this is Ebony Reprinted, a series of monoprints that present “the healing possibilities of abstraction.” To make the works, Dana used images that circulated in printed adverts and distorted them using paint to “remove traces of exploitative, white-dominated, capitalist, visual language and allow the individuals in these images to regain their agency.” She does this by smearing, pressing and adding texture to paint and, as the individuals and their faces becomes more abstract, the notion is that they also become “exponentially more present.”
GalleryDana Robinson: Ebony Repainted (Copyright © Dana Robinson, 2020)
Building upon this, Dana has been working on a series of wood panel works that address the way that Ebony remotes and pushes for an impossible image of Black respectability, one that has been shaped by white standards. “Instead of Black people failing to achieve this goal something else happens, like magic through the queering of western standards an alternate vein of success is created and a new standard comes to light,” the artist outlines. “My work speaks to the greatness of this Black excellence but also questions whether this standard seen in the pages of Ebony is also creating a new hurdle that is impossible to jump over.” She continues that, “By this excellence becoming an expectation of not just Black success but often survival we take on a burden that rarely allows us rest, and the generosity of just being basic people who can be mediocre.”
Dana describes her projects as ones that “reveal answers and lead to more questions.” Whether something related to her own life or a more universal topic, the idea is the solve something which appears unsolvable. Take, for example, Dana’s recent ongoing project called Scarf Collection. “I sell the scarfs and give half of the money to a Black person or Black-led organisation,” she explains. “Capitalism functions in a space of scarcity, so I wanted to prove to myself that there can be enough, and giving is something that can be built into my art practice.” In turn, the project questions labour, ownership, love and abundance.
Whatever the project, however, the exciting part for Dana is “the way I can surprise myself with a combination of colours I have never seen before but remind me of something that I miss.” And this is exactly what she plans to continue doing, with plans for a group show in October and several artists residencies in the coming year. “Between now and then I am continuing to explore materials, ask questions and make scarfs,” she says.
Dana Robinson: Ebony Repainted: With a Little Help from Fashion Fair Cosmetics, 18 x 24 inches, Acrylic on wooden panel (Copyright © Dana Robinson, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.