Mary Graham

Value Test: Brown Paper

Curated by Key Jo Lee
March 27, 2024
May 19, 2024


Value Test: Brown Paper is an exhibition of portraits depicting fictional Black women rendered in oil on brown paper bags. The eponymous “paper bag tests” were historically conducted amongst the Black upper classes to gauge entry into elite spaces, granting access only to those lighter than the brown paper. Through this work Graham reflects on colorism, classism, and power, and their roots in white supremacy.

With colorism’s continued prevalence in the contemporary as both an internalized and systemic phenomenon, she attempts in this work to foster conversation, reconciliation, and a level of inter-communal healing. Rooted in an African-American spiritual tradition, Graham's work begins with the veneration of her own lineage, expanding to encompass themes of generational love, collective human origin, and our relationship to the unknown. Graham works primarily in figuration and portraiture, and is also a classically trained vocalist.

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