Marilyn Monroe standing on a subway grate, her white dress billowing around her hips—it’s an iconic Hollywood image. That scene from The Seven Year Itch has inspired countless tributes and parodies over the years.
Artist Tya Alisa Anthony was researching the history of Black media when she came across an old Jet magazine cover featuring Donna Summer re-creating Monroe’s peek-a-boo pose. Anthony’s parents had collected the weekly digest when she was a child, but re-examining back issues revealed a disconnect between the magazine’s eye-catching covers and its articles on Black agency and pride.
“These women were not being recognized or respected as Black women,” says Anthony. “They were representing European ideals, highlighted with stories like ‘Are Black Women Getting More Attractive?’ or ‘Stripper to Singer.’ It didn’t settle right with me, attempting to connect to the women on the covers.”
The portrait series Complexion is Anthony’s response.
Examining the Past
To create the images in the series, Anthony began by downloading thumbnail-size images of Jet covers. Then she would open an image in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and remove unwanted details. Next, she opened the images in Adobe Photoshop and enlarged them to her desired physical dimensions. (This process introduced visual distortion that she incorporated into the works.) Then she went to work with the Pixelate filter.
“In Glitch, for example, I felt it more appropriate to pixelate and blur in Photoshop rather than in Lightroom,” says Anthony. “Whereas in Lightroom, I was able to remove unwanted marks from the transfer and handling processes,” she says.