Carnegie Mellon University

Renée Stout, illustrated in front of a bright coral brushstroke.

Artistic Narrative

Renée Stout: Contradiction and Community

written by
Andy Ptaschinski

The wide-ranging work of internationally acclaimed artist Renée Stout is awash in contradictions. It is, at once, timeless and of-the-moment, fore-boding and hopeful, personal and universal, ancient and contemporary.

“In my work, there is an ongoing and sometimes humorous narrative that aims to help make sense of the chaotic times we're all living through,” Stout said. “I see this narrative as my contribution to telling the story of who we are as a society at this point in time."

That artistic narrative took form in 1985, five years after receiving her BFA from the School of Art, when Stout moved to Washington, D.C., where she began incorporating the spiritual roots of the African Diaspora — the forced mass dispersion of African peoples during the Transatlantic Slave Trades — into her artistic practice. The connection between urban communities and the spiritual traditions of the diaspora recognized an important component of American culture that had been devalued both by the mainstream and “high” culture.

Through her interest in spiritual African traditions, Stout was rejecting not only the 1980's popular culture, defined by mass media and rampant consumerism, but also the art world, which was still often fixated on the archetype of the white male genius. At the same time, she was responding to her contemporary reality in Washington, D.C., where she witnessed urban decay, drug use and racial stereotyping.

Those influences have resulted in works that encourage deep self-examination, self-empowerment and self-healing. And, today, many of them can be found in the collections of some of the most important museums in the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Stout was the first American to exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and has received many honors, including a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.