iona rozeal brown re-creates and remixes art history to question cultural and racial stereotypes and to examine colliding cultures. Her paintings blend the style and imagery of Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo period with elements of African American hip-hop culture. Her work refers both to the Western fascination with Asian pop culture (Japanese animation, martial arts, kung fu movies) and Japanese and Korean teenagers who idolize and imitate African American rap stars by darkening their skin, changing their hairstyles, and copying hip-hop fashions. Brown spent a month traveling in Japan and Korea in 2001, and the trip provided the impetus for an ongoing series of work titled a3 that now includes over eighty paintings. In the title a3 stands for afro-asiatic allegory, brown’s abbreviated reference to her hybrid creations and to her own cultural appropriation as an African American artist assuming the identity of an Asian artist.
Many of her paintings imitate the ukiyo-e style of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Japanese prints. Ukiyo-e is a Buddhist term for “floating world” (referring to life on earth as opposed to the immortal afterlife) and was used in Japanese art to reference images of excess and luxury in the material world. Brown mimics a recognizable historic style in her depictions of geishas, samurai, and kabuki actors. She then mixes it up by reversing their traditional whiteface makeup to blackface and incorporating contemporary hip-hop trappings—flashy jewelry, elaborate hairstyles, tattoos, designer labels—to examine a dual-edged cultural appropriation. In contemporary translations of an ancient art form, brown explores the global influence of hip-hop and youth culture in works of art that remix, juxtapose, contrast, and meld images from across the world and across centuries to create new cross-cultural dialogues.
tags: identity, place, variation, pattern