SPIRIT, LOVE, HEALING POWER: Renée Stout

Renée Stout (American, born 1958).
New Orleans, 2008–2010.
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Clarence W. and Mildred Long Art Purchase Fund, IU Art Museum 2011.267

After attending the Noon Talk Spirit, Love, Healing Power: Renée Stout, I got a chance to learn more about Renée Stout’s photographs that are now hanging in the Gallery of Western Art and her perspective behind them.  In her works, Stout addresses three main themes: self-definition, use of cultural resources, and resistance to the status quo.   Although this is the framework that guides her, after the discussion and critique of her work, I walked away feeling that it was difficult to so cleanly define her artistic approach and product.  I have tried to synthesize today’s Noon Talk but I left with more questions than answers.  However, I think it is Stout’s goal to leave the audience with unanswered questions.  Stout’s photography shows that the journey to a clear answer never ends and this eternal search is echoed throughout her body of work.

Growing up, Renée Stout was greatly shaped by the influences of her African and Creole roots as well as by her more contemporary ancestors.  About every ten years, as a retrospective on herself, Stout returns to these roots.  Tracking and exploring her evolution through her alias Fatima Mayfield, Stout is able to navigate through and analyze her evolution from a comfortable distance.  Through the depiction of her nude self on film, Stout documents her path to empowerment simultaneously shifting her identity in time and space.

Stout’s works are not simply photographs, but they are transforming self-portraits.  Beginning her journey young with expectation and waiting, she moves on to expose herself and her vulnerabilities with age.  But with such exposure comes disappointment, life leaving its mark on her physical and spiritual presence.  Though this pain and anguish is depicted, there is still more to her story.  This hurt becomes a source of triumph as Stout has learned from her past and the past of her ancestors, morphing her into the woman she is today.  The fragmented pieces that have made up her being come together to create a whole, providing answers to her existence.  Though, as her works illustrate, the search for resolution will never truly end.

S.D.

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