Black Masquerade / by tylonn sawyer

"3 Graces" Nina

48" x 64"

Oil on Canvas 



"Black Masquerade" is a cult work series depicting a dark, surreal view of black unity.  As a point of departure from portraiture and highlighting the individual, these works aim to show the confluence of collective identity and anonymity

These images feature ascetic African Americans uniformed in black & white, hiding their identity with masks.  The masks cut out images of iconic civil rights activists and artists.  It is my intent that this regalia be viewed as sinister, in alluding to the art direction seen in David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick productions.

Through my earlier portrait work, I sought to "make images that are big, beautiful, and have a vast presence to dispel the sense of 'smallness' people of color are made to feel.”  I am certain that the police have not received the message.

In this current cultural climate, when having brown skin registers as aposematic coloration, how does the black body ever feel safe?  How does the black body project an image of peace?  How does the black body garner respect or be seen as an intellect rather than simply a dangerous beast that must be culled?

I don’t have the answers.  Yet my brain goes to a dark place.  A place where blacks, rather than hide behind masks, use them as armor.  Blacks become a perfectly imperfect presentation of past archetypes, while being prototypes for a new black consciousness.  Rather than rage against the machine, what if blacks learned how the machine worked? How to drive the machine?  How to be the machine?  I believe then and only then will blacks have arrived rather than just be here.

These are the “what if” plot elements of a movie that was never filmed and may never be.  Yet it’s a script I continue to write, in hopes that someday they’ll be actors to play these roles. 


Tylonn J. Sawyer