Mickalene Thomas, Baby I Am Ready Now, 2007.

Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on wooden panel, diptych, 72 x 132 inches overall; 72 x 60 inches, left panel; 72 x 72 inches, right panel. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

Mickalene Thomas’s figures colorfully adorned and bejeweled figures immediately arrest viewers with their level gazes and provocative poses, but the works are also striking because of their context: black women have not traditionally been the central subjects of mainstream Western painting. Addressing this absence, Thomas looks to the 1970s for models—to icons of women’s liberation and to the heroines of blaxploitation films, who embodied a combination of confidence and sex appeal. Adorned with rhinestones and surrounded by rich colors and patterns, Thomas’s figures suggest a vision of African-American femininity that is both gritty and dazzling.