T.J. Dedeaux-Norris is a mixed-media artist who employs painting, fiber, performance, video and music to explore the somatic impacts of racial, gender and class socialization.

Iowa Artist Fellow blurs line between life and art

Iowa Culture
Iowa Arts Council


“What does it mean to juxtapose a popular image of a Black girl making a weird face — a meme we’ve seen a hundred times — with my sixth-grade portrait from elementary school?” Iowa Artist Fellow T.J. Dedeaux-Norris asked.

From Dedeaux-Norris, whose artworks offer an intriguing mix of popular culture and a portal into the artist’s own life, this question takes on a deeply personal, as well as universal, dimension.

It wasn’t very long ago that the Iowa City-based artist was in a different place, asking different questions.

With family roots in Mississippi and Louisiana, Dedeaux-Norris witnessed systemic racism and saw first-hand how gentrification in the wake of Hurricane Katrina forced many Black residents out of their old neighborhoods. Put simply, the artist described feeling exhausted by the everyday challenges of being a Black woman from the South.

So, Dedeaux-Norris changed their vantage point. After a stint living in Berlin, Dedeaux-Norris moved to Iowa in 2016, upon receiving a Grant Wood Fellowship at the University of Iowa, and returned when the university hired them as an associate professor of painting and drawing.

The artist changed their name and identity, too, from Tameka Jenean Norris to T.J. Dedeaux-Norris — a move that inspired an exhibition, shown at the Figge Art Museum in 2020–21, and their students.

Solo exhibition, Figge Museum, 2020–2021.

The new name “felt like something really big happening,” the artist said. “It was a way for me to remind myself, like getting a tattoo.”

At the same time, Dedeaux-Norris started producing different art. A lot of their earlier work — paintings, textiles, videos and music — was “very much a product of the art world,” they said. “There was a tight narrative that I was a Black woman making artwork about the American South and violence toward Black women’s bodies.”

With the name change, Dedeaux-Norris started rethinking their art practice, placing less emphasis on artistic objects and more on performing. Dedeaux-Norris started focusing on wellness, too, taking on running, meditation, massage, and even boxing.

“My art practice needed to take care of my primary instrument, my body,” they said.

“Part I: Second Line,” Illinois State University. 2021.

In some ways, the Iowa Artist Fellowship allows Dedeaux-Norris to elevate their performance to a bigger stage. The fellowship’s promotional and professional-development opportunities help the artist look forward — and occasionally back.

“We’re all performing,” they said. “Who we are at work, with our friends, with our partner or whoever — we’re all performing. Because, really, where’s the boundary between life and performance art?”

— Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs



Iowa Culture
Iowa Arts Council

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov