Women’s History Month Spotlight: Mickalene Thomas

Adreon Patterson
3 min readMar 14, 2024

Contemporary visual artist Mickalene Thomas treated the Black female experience with the grace of the masters. As the daughter of a fashion model, Thomas’s lens took shape early in Camden, New Jersey. She experienced hardship early as her parents’ relationship was turbulent due to drug addiction. Her mother exposed her to art early through museum trips and a Buddhist upbringing. She became fascinated with Carrie Mae Weems and mixed-media painting. At the same time, she was coming to terms with her sexuality. Things changed once Thomas landed in Portland, Oregon, to attend school through the 1980s and 1990s.

After dabbling in law and theater, Thomas took her artistic talents to the Pratt Institute, where she earned her BFA in painting. She followed her Pratt studies by obtaining her MFA at the Yale University School of Art. Her studies paid off the mixed media artist through the Studio Museum residency in Harlem from 2000 to 2003. She followed the residency by participating in the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France. Her mix of Blaxploitation and the post-Black art movement came together during this period. She participated in numerous exhibitions during this time.

Painting wasn’t Thomas’s only artistic outlet. The visual artist dabbled in photography, collage, printmaking, video, sculpture, and installation art. These mediums began infiltrating her work through pieces like the Odalisque series. Her years of artistic work led to her first solo show — 2012’s Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe. Thomas began exploring film and video by shooting the short film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman in 2014. This new avenue expanded into her working with artist Solange Knowles on her True EP.

Thomas branched into other areas by participating in notable collaborations with companies like Rolls-Royce and Dior. In recent years, the artist jumped into the theater world by co-producing the revival of the Tony-winning musical “The Wiz.”

Mickalene Thomas used her work to showcase the Black female experience. Mastering her craft allowed Thomas to bring the subject matter through various mediums. She continues to inspire other creatives to push beyond their limits. So, I say, “Ms.Thomas, we thank you for using your talents to expand the view of Black women.”

I define my work as a feminist act and a political act because I’m Black and a woman. you don’t ncessarily have to claim that, but the act of making art itself is a political and feminist act when you’re a woman.

Mickalene Thomas

Originally published at http://adreonpatterson.net on March 14, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

A multi-faceted creator trying to change the world one word at a time. Check out more at https://adreonpatterson.net