As a former fashion photographer and model, Renee Cox is well-versed in the elements necessary to construct a glamorous appearance. Even when she shifted careers to focus on fine-art photography and starting a family, Cox showcased her glamour through a series of self-portraits inspired by her new suburban life. In The Discreet Charm of the Bougies series Cox becomes Missy, an exaggerated character who acts as an avatar for Cox and her experiences as a wife and mother.
Missy is an affluent black housewife who, throughout the series, embarks on a journey of self-reflection that culminates in a deeper understanding of her selfhood and agency as a black woman of status. Surrounding Missy are various representational elements of her identity and lifestyle: a large house, upscale clothes and jewelry, and an expensive purebred white poodle. Perhaps most striking is Missy’s maid, whose white skin emphasizes Missy’s privilege as a black woman who can afford to hire a domestic worker, a profession that was historically the only means of income for many black women. Just as Cox appropriates Hurrell’s glamour and reconfigures it in her own photography, Missy appropriates the typical existence of an upper-class white housewife.
From the exhibition: New Ms. Thang (May 4 – May 18, 2019)