...doing what they always do...(...when they grow up...)

Ebony G. Patterson

Exploring themes of gender, particularly performative gender and the masquerade, Patterson's "...doing what they always do..." pushes forth the notion of performing femininity. Glitter, beads, and other embellishments adorn photographs – models meant to evoke images of black children like those we see on the news – who have in actuality been killed. Patterson said of this site-specific installation at the Studio Museum in Harlem, "I was thinking about those cases of the girls who were molested, thinking about the changes that happen with your body so rapidly. It pushes you into adult form, yet you’re still a baby. What would that mean to put a child-like that next to a child who is 16 and wearing a weave and very aware of her body? I was interested in these kinds of juxtapositions. Because when we think about stories like Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown, they were literally at that cusp of moving into adulthood. They were always talked about as if they were adults. But when we talk about Dylann Storm Roof, who was 21, we talk about him like he was a kid. And he’s not a kid."* Photographs of these children are collaged over the pink-and-white polka-dotted wallpaper. In one, two boys sit side by side on a bench, captivated by a plastic toy bow and arrow. On the opposite wall hang four individual portraits of black adolescents of ascending ages—12, 14, 17, and 18—who stare innocently out at the room, as if posing for a school portrait. The surfaces of the photographs are covered with stickers, refrigerator magnets, and Mardi Gras beads, a mess of sparkle and shine that draws the viewer in. Closer examination of this installation reveals a dark modification: the photographs are riddled with bullet-like holes, another layer of polka dots that allows the pink wallpaper to peek through. This challenging installation work is perhaps the most ambitious in Patterson’s oeuvre and stands as both a type of contemporary memorial and an aesthetic engagement with immersive installational forms. *Julia Felsenthal, "Ebony G. Patterson Confronts Race and Childhood at the Studio Museum in Harlem." Vogue, April 5, 2016. https://www.vogue.com/article/ebony-g-patterson-studio-museum-harlem.
Date of Birth
(b. 1981)
Mixed media on hand-cut jacquard woven tapestry with beads, appliques, embellishments, broaches, plastic, glitter, fabric, embellished knapsack, books, plastic toys, handmade shoes, and wall paper fabric
overall: 124 x 430 x 12 in. (314.96 x 1092.2 x 30.48 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
Museum Purchase
On View
On Loan