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by Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University Duration 1:00:22 Published
The Housewife Missy at Home commences the 2009 narrative-series Black Housewives by Renee Cox (born in Colgate, Jamaica). This semi-autobiographical body of work follows the disintegration and resurrection of Missy, a wealthy but deeply troubled housewife. As Missy navigates her way through addiction, loneliness and uncertainty, she frees herself from the constraints of suburbia to travel throughout the African continent and East and Southeast Asia, shedding her past along the way and eventually finding spiritual enlightenment. This photograph from the series serves as Missy’s introduction. Her life of privilege is evidenced by the lavish space she inhabits, her clothing, the poodle seated at her feet and her maid.
Meeting the viewer’s gaze—a tactic Cox regularly uses in her photographic self-portraits in an effort to claim agency and ownership of her body—Missy sits upright on her sofa, clad in a black, three-piece suit, nylons and point-toe heels as her maid, a nameless white woman, offers her a tray of alcoholic beverages. The role reversal between Missy, a Black woman, and the white woman serving her subverts the longstanding relationship between enslaved Black women working under the terroristic management of their enslavers’ wives, a relationship that has since morphed into Black women employed as domestic workers in wealthy, white-owned homes. Framed behind the two women is Cox’s own 1993 photograph entitled The Yo Mama, featuring the artist, nude with the exception of her high heeled pumps, standing and holding her son in a manner akin to holding an assault rifle. Perhaps this was Missy at one point, fiercely assertive and independent of the respectability politics that now govern her life. With her former self on full display, Missy remains haunted by the reminder that she may never regain the liberation she once had. The Housewife Missy at Home is the first work by Cox to enter the collection.
— Adria Gunter, Curatorial Assistant
The works from the collection featured below, in the gallery, are great examples of works that pair well with The Housewife Missy at Home.