Average: 5 (1 vote)
ebrowne's picture


Kerry James Marshall rebalances museum collections one painting at a time.

It’s tough to tell whether the writing “SOB, SOB” in this painting means the girl in the painting is crying or shouting profane acronyms at the imperialists of yore. Perhaps both? How do we know she is contemplating colonialism/imperialism? Well, because the girl is gazing out the window while her hand is placed on a copy of Africa since 1413, meanwhile behind her are volumes and volumes of books like, From Slavery to Freedom, Black Women in White America, Critical Race Theory, and Soul of Africa. The concept behind this painting is the quote, “there are things that you cannot not know.” For instance, some things you cannot not know is that there is always an ugly carrot in a bag of normal carrots, the kinship you feel with the drunk girls in the bathroom never lasts, and foods eaten with toothpicks are the most delicious. But in this painting the universal truth is much more serious. We cannot not know how poorly black people have been treated throughout history.

Marshall’s art revolves around this fact and he has “committed [himself] to only making black figures in [his] paintings because there are not enough paintings in museums, anywhere, really that have black figures as the central subject of those pictures.” He’s taken a kind of Guerrilla Girls approach to commenting on the lack of one kind of person in museums and is slowly chipping away at the difference in the number of white people represented vs. black people represented. It may take Marshall’s entire life to make a dent in that number but Rome wasn’t built in a day.




  1. Meet Kerry James Marshall. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2013. video.
  2. "SOB, SOB By Kerry James Marshall / American Art". Web. 7 Apr. 2017.
  3. Dixon, Glenn, and Glenn Dixon. "'True Thing': Breaking Out Of The Frame". Washington Post. N.p., 2004. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.