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Do you like America’s Next Top Model?

Sacrifice PAINTINGS Brown, Iona Rozeal American, b. 1966 2007 Mixed media on framed panel 52 x 38 in. Purchase, with funds from African American Art Alliance and Contemporary Art Society M2007.60
iona rozeal brown (American, b. 1966), sacrifice, 2007. Acrylic and paper on framed panel, 52 x 38 in. (132.08 x 96.52 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from African American Art Alliance and Contemporary Art Society M2007.60. Photo credit John R. Glembin. © iona rozeal brown

So do I.

Which is why I was excited to learn that an artist in the Museum’s permanent collection, iona rozeal brown, is collaborating on a project with America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) guest star Benny Ninja. Ninja is a master of “vogueing” and dramatic posing; his style of dance influenced the iconic Madonna Vogue video.

This past weekend in New York City iona rozeal brown, along with Benny Ninja and Javier Ninja (“House of Ninja”), presented a preview of a Kabuki- and voguing- inspired performance work called the battle of yestermore, which has been commissioned for the Performa 11 Biennial this November 1-20.

You can see an image of a costume designed for brown’s upcoming performance here.

The organizers of the biennial intentionally chose artists who do not usually use performance in their artwork. “Performa invites artists to take their work in entirely new directions,” curator RoseLee Goldberg explains. iona rozeal brown’s primary medium is paint. She earned her M.F.A. in painting from Yale University School of Art. This new performative medium is not a giant stretch for her, however, because as she states in an video interview with Milwaukee Art Museum, Japanese theater styles such as Kabuki and Noh have influenced her work all along.

Her painting in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection, Sacrifice, wittily references the commercialism of both the historical Edo era of Japan and contemporary Japanese youth who emulate African-American hip hop culture. This subculture is called ganguro, which means “black face,” a phenomena explained more thoroughly in this 2004 The New York Times article on iona rozeal brown.

Ms. brown’s masterfully executed and cross-cultural artwork is often on view at the Museum, so stop by to see it next time it’s out. Sacrifice recently went off view for a new rotation, but you can always keep tabs on what’s in the galleries by searching on the Museum’s online collection page.

Side note: Speaking of connections between performance art and the Museum… coincidentally, the vogueing craze began in the in the sixties Harlem dance scene right around the time that “happenings” were all the rage in the art world. Check out this wild story told by the Museum’s Barbara Brown Lee about “happenings” at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the sixties (start watching at about 5:40.)

Janet Gourley is the Education and Programs Department Administrator at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her workday is spent facilitating programs, maintaining department attendance statistics, and knowing how to answer any and all questions about the Museum’s educational programs.

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