“I have always been an artist. I have always been a creative soul… A lover of all things creative.” – Tamara Madden, 2011
Some of the best works of art have been produced during high adversity and turmoil. For centuries, artists have been able to showcase their creative abilities despite what personal matters may surround them. They are able to utilize their talents to create something beautiful. Tamara Madden is one of these artists.
Tamara’s work takes inspiration from her colorful and vibrant life in Jamaica, alongside spending time in her teen years in Madison, Wisconsin. Throughout her life, she suffered from chronic health issues such as a rare genetic kidney disease and unfortunately passed away in 2017 from ovarian cancer at 42. Although Tamara’s life was riddled with obstacles, she persevered to create beautiful works of art that still live on with us.
Although Tamara’s life was riddled with obstacles, she persevered to create beautiful works of art that still live on with us.
Tamara’s work depicts Black individuals with beauty and grace, which are attributes usually lacking in the portrayals of Black people across the arts disciplines. In the painting Royal, Tamara shows two men, presumably related through their body language. They can be viewed as royalty, possibly a king and prince, judging by the crowns displayed on their heads. The deep blue and dark green hues throughout the piece create a sense of drama and demand that the viewer look at these two men while leaning into the idea that they are the future of their sovereign land. The dark green colors signify growth and new beginnings.
Another essential component of Royal is the clothing that the men are wearing. The men are depicted wearing traditional dress native to their ancestry, evident through the colors and patterns in their cloaks. Wearing traditional clothing reiterates how Black individuals and their culture are worthy of being seen as royalty.
Depicting these two men in high status helps rewrite the narrative that has been told about Black individuals. Historically, Black individuals have been left out of the arts discipline, whether the medium is film, photography, or painting. If depicted, they were seen as servants or racist caricatures.
Historically, Black individuals have been left out of the arts discipline, whether the medium is film, photography, or painting.
Tamara’s painting, Conqueror, further explores this idea of repositioning Blackness in history, particularly in the context of Black women. Conqueror depicts a Black woman not looking directly at the viewer, but off to a subject unknown to us. She is wearing an overcoat with a colorful patchwork-like design that speaks of Tamara’s passion for representing her culture in true vibrancy.
A key feature in this piece is the headpiece donned on the woman’s head. Historically, influential individuals who have led countries to battle have been known to wear battle armor or military headdresses. This could insinuate that the woman is depicted as a military leader of her homeland, leading them into battle. Tamara depicting a woman, especially a Black woman, as an army official redistributes the power taken away from marginalized groups and shows them as fierce and capable individuals.
Another painting of Tamara’s that follows this sentiment is Child of The Heavens. In this painting, Tamara illustrates a Black woman angelically (as the title suggests). The primary colors within the painting are shades of blue and gold. The blue colors seen throughout the painting, particularly in the background and the shading surrounding the woman’s face, help convey a sense of serenity for the viewer. Meanwhile, the gold paint used to create the woman’s accessories and clothing exudes regality that only traditional white royals were depicted having. The woman’s facial expression creates a longing feeling while holding a bird. Tamara’s utilization of birds in her paintings shows her appreciation of Jamaica and demonstrates her desire to show how the people of her home country, alongside the animals that make it unique, make it her home.
Tamara’s exquisite craft can be seen in Earth Queen, one of her pinnacle paintings showcasing Black women’s grace and sensitive nature that is not depicted enough.
Tamara’s exquisite craft can be seen in Earth Queen, one of her pinnacle paintings showcasing Black women’s grace and sensitive nature that is not depicted enough. When the viewer initially looks at the painting, a general sense of groundedness is exuded due to the warm earth tones utilized, such as shades of green and brown often associated with nature. The woman’s facial expression seems to be focused on something unaware to the viewer creating a sense of mystery in the painting.
Accessories also play an integral part in the painting, such as the gold crown and hoop earrings the woman is wearing. The crown is divided into six separate leaves showing the woman’s connection to her roots in the earth, which is often associated with trees. Gold hoops are a staple in many Black women’s jewelry boxes; Earth Queen includes a contemporary element while demonstrating how we are all connected to Mother Nature.
Another exciting component of the work is the egg the woman takes from the bird. The egg is golden in color, which could be paying homage to the theme of greed and destructiveness present in the Aesop Fable The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs. Alongside this, the patchwork design is similar to what can be seen in the quilts that are an integral part of the African diaspora. This showcases Tamara’s intentionality in combining elements of the African diaspora with concepts of traditional royalty which is evident throughout her work.
Tamara Madden was a creative soul, and creativity is something that is bigger than just one person; it’s within all of us. Tamara’s work reminds us to remember our roots and how our past has led to our future. Our past should not be forgotten, and we hold the ability to create art out of sorrow for generations to come.
© Jessica Bond (6/27/2023) Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE / DO MORE
Watch a 2011 interview with Tamara Madden here.
See more of Tamara’s work on her website.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Earth Queen by Tamara Madden.
Middle Photo: Full size Earth Queen by Tamara Madden.
Bottom Photo: Conqueror by Tamara Madden.
Photos courtesy of Pomegranate.