Artist Harmonia Rosale’s Boldly Re-Creates Famous European Art with Black Women
Q&A with the Self Taught Artist Who’s Gone Viral
If you’re like me, at the end of the day you probably scan through Facebook or Instagram and see hundreds of memes and photos everyday. Very few will actually catch my attention enough for me to click on them but when I saw Harmonia Rosales’s re-imagination of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” I couldn’t help but stop and open the link as fast as I possibly could. Rosales’s made the decision to transform God and Adam into black women.
I wasn’t the only one who was stunned. The image quickly went viral, with some people who loved it and of course some who didn’t. However, the attention didn’t distracte Rosales’s as she was preparing for her first solo exhibit at Simard Bilodeau Contemporary Museum in downtown Los Angeles.
The exhibit, titled Black Imaginary to Counter Hegemony (B.I.T.C.H.), opened September 17, 2017 and features seven pieces exploring the theme of placing black women in traditional art. Rosales chose to re-image works such as “The Birth of Venus” and “The Vitruvian Man”.
I had the opportunity to chat with the artist right before the launch of her exhibit. Later on I was happy to find out all seven pieces had sold out, including one purchased by Samuel L. Jackson.
Here is what the artist had to say about her social media fame and what’s inspired her to make the decision to re-create some of the world’s most famous artworks.
Q: So why did you choose to go ahead and exhibit your art now rather than sooner in your career and why show these particular seven pieces?
A: It was just the right time. You have only one chance to make a first impression and I had to be prepared mentally and execute it thoughtfully. The way my life unfolded, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. These original paintings held such deep significance to millions of people but subconsciously dictated how we perceive race and sexuality. I needed to counter that divide with unity and equality.
Q: What attracted you to the classic European style of art? Did you try other styles before discovering that this one what your strength?
A: I’ve always had a thing for Michelangelo, he was my perfect artist. Ahead of his time, talented in most mediums and intelligent. He became this role model for me. I was first introduced to him by my mother. Growing up in Chicago with the art institute as my playground, I had no choice but to admire such detailed art, but most importantly art that told stories. Of course, I experimented to find what worked for me. It had to feel right, I had to be excited about what I created.
Q:You are amazingly entirely self taught, when did you start painting and why?
A: My mother, Melodye Rosales, was a children’s book author illustrator. Ever since I could remember I would always see her hunched over her art table for many hours painting. I was curious as to what took her attention so unapologetically. I began mimicking her drawings and even created my little space directly under her art table just to be close to her. I would even be her paint-brush-fetcher when she dropped them. She would often times let me experiment with her art materials…I was a kid in a candy store. She never really taught me how to draw or paint but I would observe her and she would give me constructive criticism. Because although she wanted me to acquire my own style, she wanted me to do it well.
Q: As much as many people loved it, I’m sure some people must have been angry with your re-imagination of “The Creation of Adam” with black women. Why did you choose to re-create such a historically important painting and we’re you expecting the mass of mixed reactions you received?
A: Around the world, no matter what religion you are, if you see a white man with a beard and long hair you are automatically going to think about God or Jesus. Perhaps maybe even reference that or joke to your friends. It’s so far ingrained in our heads that I had to ask myself, “Why are we allowing this to continue?”. God is anything you want God to be…I choose God as a strong black woman and I chose the the most famous painting to depict that. It was painted with pure love and respect, it is meant to empower us all. I did not expect such a high response, it was a complete shock. A beautiful surprise.
Q: If you can hang your version of “The Creation of Adam” anywhere in the world where would you put it?
A: The White House.
Q: You have a really big social media following and have gone viral a few times, do you think social media has influenced your work or success at all ? Do people ever send you ideas or do you ever see something online that may inspire you?
A: I’m an introvert but social media has allowed me to connect with so many people without leaving my studio. I’m literally able to expose my work to thousands by just a simple click of the button. I try not to read comments or get influenced. We soak up everything around us, consciously or subconsciously, and get caught up in trends, I really try and keep to myself in order to stay true to myself.
Q: Why and how did you come to the decision to make black women the focal point of a lot of your art, regardless of being a woman of color yourself?
A: This question always amuses me because do we ever ask a white artist why they paint white people?
Q: You have been called “this generation’s Michelangelo”, how do you respond/react to being compared to such a historically significant artist?
A: Humbled. It’s such power packed in those 3 words. I’ve wanted to hear that all my life, i’m so honored…but now…Although I love Michelangelo I would rather be known as “Harmonia Rosales”
Q: What advice would you give to any freelance or self taught artist who may feel discouraged about continuing their career? And what advice would you give to 21 year-old you?
A: Every obstacle you face is to further your growth as an artist. If you really want it, embrace the struggle and keep it pushing. I would tell my 21 year old self, “Don’t worry, everything will be OK.
Her exhibit will be on view until October 15, 2017 at the Simard Bilodeau Contemporary Museum . If you’re not able to see her work in person you can also follow Rosales’s work on her Instagram and also buy prints on her offical website. Rosales’s work is another example why representation and diversity in all forms of art is so important.