The figures of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, popular cultural icons created by the Madison Avenue marketing machine, are in fact simply updated versions of the self-effacing slave-retainer and the happy black Mammy. Note that Aunt Jemima has adjured her slave bandanna and now wears a modern "permed" hairstyle. These stereotypes are so much a part of American culture that the modern public often takes them for granted. These images have been used by Quashie as a foil to the Grant Wood icons of the flinty American pioneer spirit symbolized by the staunch farmer, pitchfork in hand, and his wife who stand before their Gothic revival style farm house on a generic prairie farm in the Midwest as emblems of (white) American individuality and self-determination. Quashie's image looks at another aspect of the American experience, the Black American Gothic equivalent that is quite different in texture and tenor from that of the experience captured by regionalist artist Grant Wood.
Black American Gothic takes a look at the use of images culled from black America to market products. Aunt Jemimah, Uncle Ben and the black man on the Cream of Wheat box are the respective historic, though generic compilations of the sassy plantation nanny, her emasculated husband doubling as driver and handy man, and the thousands of unnamed black men relegated to positions as porters and service personnel. They represent a nostalgic vision of black America Americans have grown comfortable with and accepted as part and parcel of their reality. Through the use of crafty marketing by Madison Avenue, these depictions transcended their fourth-class citizenships and were placed in positions of influence on our grocer’s shelves.
The placement of such prominent black Americans like Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and Tiger Woods was intended to question the notion of transcendence. Much like the generic images they replaced on the packages, this crop of powerful black Americans have transcended their race and are now seen as influential pitchmen for products, ideology and agendas with the same if not greater level of acceptance and trust.
This piece was inspired by Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’, which depicted a farmer and his wife standing in front of their American Gothic styled house. It reflected his connectedness to mid-western roots and reinforced the notion that artists need not look any further than what they see everyday to deliver a powerful message of the surrounding world.