Alma Woodsey Thomas’s intense and searching exploration of the figure-ground relationship in her late paintings has led critics and scholars to liken these compositions to screens and lattices. In his influential book The Souls of Black Folk (1903), activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois famously employed an analogous symbol — “the veil”—to approximate what he termed the “double consciousness” of African Americans. “For Du Bois,” scholar Howard Winant explains, “the veil is a complex metaphor for the dynamics of race. It represents both barrier and connection between white and black. Imagine it as a filmy fabric, a soft and semitransparent border marker, that both keeps the races apart and mediates between them.” These dynamics play out, albeit metaphorically, across the surface of this canvas. The allover array of nearly monochromatic brushstrokes set starkly against a plain background generously offers the viewer the phenomenological equivalent of “double consciousness”—of being othered—with all the responsibilities toward our fellow human beings that follow from such an epiphanic encounter.
Jonathan Frederick Walz
Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art, Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia
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