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Abstraction as reaction: Qiana Mestrich makes her 20x200 debut

OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 by Qiana Mestrich
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($1200)

Mondays may be a struggle, but we breezed through yesterday riding a new artist anticipatory high. It’s a miracle we kept our mouths shut for 24 more hours. The cause of all the excitement? Qiana Mestrich! We’re (obviously) thrilled to announce her abstract, enigmatic, thoroughly thoughtful debut edition. The photo-based artist and native New Yorker created OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 as part of The Black Doll Series. Mestrich mines the original images for her series from sources like eBay and Etsy, where sellers offer a broad range of vintage Black dolls. A great deal of digital painting, manipulation and mastery later and you end up with a team full of art professionals spending a solid week squealing about an upcoming art print.

The edges of this edition are intentionally pixelated — the larger the image size, the more visible the pixels, which offer their own integrated element of geometry. The size of each OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 print dictates the amount of visible pixelation. It’s subtle in size 11”x14”, visible in 16”x20”, and more assertive in size 24”x30”. The edition itself is a mutable thing. Through it, Mestrich takes an image of a symbolically loaded object, photographed for purely commercial purposes, digitally breaks down and disconnects it from its facsimile, and refashions it into an artwork that is inherently dynamic even in its “final” form. This begs the question: as the seen information changes, what changes with it and what sticks around?

In The Black Doll Series, Mestrich redefines vintage Black dolls through her own visual translation, using the power of abstraction and the syntax of shape, form and color to rewrite the sentence. She takes strange, stereotyped, or whitewashed portrayals and drastically alters them, owns them, makes them new. Which is not to say she removes them from reality altogether. Her color choices suggest skin tones, and her shapes hint at human form. Note how the composition of OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 is centered and lit like a classical portrait. A rich russet brown dominates the background. Layered, luminous fragments at center bring to mind the effect of light falling on the planes of a face — but instead of centering a recognizable subject with a face, her focal point is non-figurative.

Geometric abstraction is perhaps the perfect tool to transform the found photographs, because in some ways it’s as far removed from objective representation as one can get, past even the emotion of something more gestural. OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 is composed, tightly considered, and controlled. Mestrich has reclaimed the image of the doll, and through it, a representation of Blackness.

Though the images in The Black Doll Series have been abstracted beyond recognition, you might have picked up from today’s edition title that Mestrich has kept the original online item descriptions. However invisible the links may be between Mestrich’s artworks and the images from which they were alchemized, this move underscores their irrevocable bond. Can you redefine history through modern, abstract interpretation? What do you make of the old titles paired with these metamorphosized images? As Mestrich asks, “can the viewer unsee their own mental archive of oppression?” The answer may be no, but the exercise is essential.

Let's take a sec to consider the doll as a socio-cultural barometer. Archaeological evidence places dolls in ancient civilizations as early as 21st c. BC, many fashioned to look like the people who possessed them. Mass produced Black dolls have a complex history dating back to 19th c. Europe, and have run the gamut from racist tropes and caricatures to crucial sources of pride and empowerment. Dolls are more than just toys — they're examples of representation.

Mestrich has devoted special attention to issues of representation. In 2007, she founded Dodge & Burn, an arts initiative working toward increased inclusivity in the photography world by centering artists of color and setting out to decolonize the medium’s history. In The Black Doll Series, the artist addresses Black representation through the vantage point of vintage dolls, dolls in general being of particular importance to children. The experience of growing up as a child of color without dolls that represent your likeness has a significant impact on a child’s sense of self-worth and identity. Mestrich, a mother of two, no doubt has this on her mind.

For all its abstraction, you might ask yourself how the lines and forms and colors in OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 are actually a more realistic representation than the vintage doll that started it all. At the very least, Mestrich’s inaugural edition is not one dimensional. Visually, her consolidated shapes and color combinations seem at once subdued and electric with intimations. Turning your attention to the interplay of the title and the image itself, it becomes apparent how brilliantly deliberate and enlightened her artistic process is. OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 is the artist's 20x200 introduction, but we're already saying encore.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200