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August 27, 2021

Acquisition: Rozeal (formerly known as iona rozeal brown)


Rozeal (formerly known as iona rozeal brown)
SONG OF SOLOMON 5:16 – BE BEEWORLD: BE B BOY B GIRL (after "Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Gueifei playing the same flute" by Utamaro Kitagawa), 2014–2016
mixed media on wood panel
overall: 365.76 x 152.4 cm (144 x 60 in.)
each panel (each of two panels): 182.88 x 152.4 cm (72 x 60 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The National Gallery of Art has acquired SONG OF SOLOMON 5:16 – BE BEEWORLD: BE B BOY B GIRL (after "Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Gueifei playing the same flute" by Utamaro Kitagawa) (2014–2016) by artist Rozeal (formerly known as Iona Rozeal Brown) (b. 1966). The large-scale work was inspired by a Japanese woodblock print which the artist deftly treated with her signature combination of Asian and African American cross-cultural referents to race, class, and gender.

Rozeal often points to her strong childhood memories of attending Chinese New Year celebrations in Washington, DC's Chinatown and going to Kabuki theater performances at the Kennedy Center with her family. Her primary inspiration for this painting came from a Japanese Edo-era print by Utamaro Kitagawa (1753–1806) of a legendary Tang Dynasty couple, Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Gueifei. She incorporates various hip-hop references such as dreadlocks, coiled hair adorned with Cuban-link chains, conjoined headsets, and combined Asian and African American facial features depicted in the figures' masks. The inclusion of the Bible verse from the Song of Solomon alludes to her interest in amorous couples: "His mouth is sweetness itself. He is altogether lovely" (5:16). The reference to "Beeworld" in the title is a meditation on the "troubles of bees" represented in the background by a hive-like pattern between the figures. "B BOY B GIRL" calls out the dance battles in hip-hop culture and Rozeal's practice as a DJ. 

Part of Rozeal's series of "Afro-Asiatic Allegories," SONG OF SOLOMON contains many of her characteristic motifs. In the upper half of the painting, large abstract discs created using music speakers in various sizes are edged with a repeated Bible verse from the Gospel of John, "The flesh counts for nothing" (6:63). Above the discs are paint drips that run from the edge of the discs to the top of the painting. In the lower half, the two lovers are intimately entwined in pearls and headsets. Their hands gently hold the other's outward headset while their internal headsets are wired together. 

This painting is the second work by the artist to enter the National Gallery collection, joining afro.died, T. (2011).

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