College of Arts and Sciences: University Honors



Faculty Mentor

Kenneth Allan, PhD

Faculty Editor

Kenneth Allan, PhD

Student Editor

Amy Gulley


This essay analyzes Robert Colescott’s ability to visualize the emotional and psychological burden of racism using his rendition of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (d’Avignon), Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a 96 x 92 in. acrylic on canvas painting. Created in 1985, but based in 1960s America, Colescott’s satirical rendition of one of Picasso’s most famed works, and a work in high regard in the art canon, illuminates racist attitudes perpetuated by Picasso’s d’Avignon. This essay was also inspired by the Museum of Modern Art’s wall text about d’Avignon, which failed to mention the racism embedded in primitivism. I focus on how Colescott’s critical look at who is painting and being painted calls artists and institutions to wake up to the ideologies they perpetuate. I come to these conclusions through analyzing Colescott’s use of satire, stereotyping, cartoonish coloring, symbolism, and spatial grotesque, and through comparison to Picasso’s d’Avignon. During my research, I often paired Black artists’ works with literary ones, particularly WEB Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. Inspired by the myriad of ways Black people produce works that push against the tides of racism, I conclude my essay and name inspired by a quote from Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk: “The spiritual striving of the Freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.”