Thrall 






About this Project


The images in Thrall externalize my thinking around recent political, social and cultural discussions on white supremacy and Black consciousness.

I was inspired to create this work during a visit to a museum with my children, when we encountered a towering statue of Pandora in front of a large window. In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman created by the gods and this sculpture (made in 1871 by Chauncey Bradley Ives) depicts her in the act of opening the box/jar containing humanity's evils.

Despite her divine origin and childlike curiosity, Pandora’s misfortune is allegorically and literally giving birth to civilization’s “dark” tendencies. Pandora’s marmoreal overbearance inspired me to create a photograph that reflects the enforcement of classical ideals of beauty and the production of a normality of whiteness regularly on display in our art institutions.

Thrall alludes to whiteness as a blanketing, nearly invisible pressure. As a mother, I’ve observed this influence even more. WithThrall I endorse the Black Mother’s role as Creator, Author and Photographer. She is no longer hidden as a prop or forced labor. She is superhuman and in control of the image, utilizing the home and immediate environment as her studio.

Regarding mothers, canonized photographers like Julia Margaret-Cameron, Sally Mann and Elinor Carruci are ambivalent influences for me. They have saturated the classification of motherhood in art photography, often upholding Christian or Catholic iconography that I cannot relate to. In Thrall, I do not depict myself with my children, nor am I willing to represent or perform trauma which further perpetuates the camera’s early use and abuse of power as a colonial instrument. Instead, I set out to take a compassionate, protective approach that is reflective of my own upbringing and awareness of the world as a Buddhist.

Moving towards an understanding and acceptance of all things natural, I also seek to (re)discover a Black relationship to the outdoors, without fear. Collaborating with my children, I allow them to dance, be unruly, wondrous and curious in Nature. The images created through their play are an alternative view of the dominant narrative of urban poverty and denial of an unrestricted access to Nature that has historically limited Black children.

Furthering this exploration of the outdoors, I incorporate weed plants as ornamentation in my work, challenging their subjective classification as “invasive” or not worthy of admiration. I contemplate how nature itself has been regulated through the cultivation of plants for the production of capitalism, namely the colonial realms of the plantation and traditional horticulture (or the garden).

In Thrall, I employ photographic elements like shadow and the inverted silhouette as additional characters in my visual narrative. Blending various modes of picture making into a single body of work, I frame a poly-consciousness shaped by my own experiences around identity as a first-generation American, Black, mixed-race woman. I want to question the powers that make dominant narratives legitimate.








About this Project


Integrating the outdoor studio, staged portraiture, still life and candid family photography, the images in Thrall externalize my thinking around recent political, social and cultural discussions on white supremacy and Black consciousness.

I was inspired to create this work during a visit to  a museum with my children, when we encountered a towering statue of Pandora in front of a large window. In Greek mythology Pandora is the first woman created by the gods and this sculpture (made in 1871 by Chauncey Bradley Ives) depicts her in the act of opening the box/jar containing humanity's evils.

Despite her divine origin and childlike curiosity, Pandora’s misfortune is allegorically and literally giving birth to civilization’s “dark” tendencies. Pandora’s marmoreal overbearance inspired me to create a photograph that reflects the enforcement of classical ideals of beauty and the production of a normality of whiteness regularly on display in our art institutions.

The images in Thrall allude to whiteness as a blanketing, nearly invisible pressure. As a mother myself, I’ve observed this influence even more. With Thrall I endorse the Black Mother’s role as Creator, Author and Photographer. She is no longer hidden as a prop or forced labor. She is superhuman and in control of the image, utilizing the home and immediate environment as her studio.

Regarding mothers, canonized photographers like Julia Margaret-Cameron, Sally Mann and Elinor Carruci are ambivalent influences for me. They have saturated the classification of motherhood in art photography, often upholding Christian or Catholic iconography that I cannot relate to. In Thrall, I do not depict myself with my children, nor am I willing to represent or perform trauma which further perpetuates the camera’s early use and abuse of power as a colonial instrument. Instead, I set out to take a compassionate, protective approach that is reflective of my own upbringing and awareness of the world as a Buddhist.

Moving towards an understanding and acceptance of all things natural, I also seek to (re)discover a Black relationship to the outdoors, without fear. Collaborating with my children, I allow them to dance, be unruly, wondrous and curious in Nature. The images created through their play are an alternative view of the dominant narrative of urban poverty and denial of an unrestricted access to Nature that has historically limited Black children.

Furthering this exploration of the outdoors, I incorporate weed plants as ornamentation in my work, challenging their subjective classification as “invasive” or not worthy of admiration. I contemplate how nature itself has been regulated through the cultivation of plants for the production of capitalism, namely the colonial realms of the plantation and traditional horticulture (or the garden).

In Thrall, I employ photographic elements like shadow and the inverted silhouette as additional characters in my visual narrative. Blending various modes of picture making into a single body of work, I frame a poly-consciousness shaped by my own experiences around identity as a first-generation American, Black, mixed-race woman. I want to question the powers that make dominant narratives legitimate.

What you see here is a selection of the images in this series, please contact me to inquire about viewing more.

9 to 5




About this Project


An archival photographic project that uncovers my mother's early work experience as a new migrant to NYC to recognize the contributions of immigrant women of color in the American workplace.

This work is still in progress as I weave together stories about the technology work performed by these women and the social mobility it afforded them and their families.

What you see here is a selection of the images in this project, please contact me to inquire about viewing more.



New Photography Workshop 


This winter 2021, I will be co-teaching the Practices, Strategies and Techniques photography workshop with Justine Kurland. 

This eight-week online workshop combines a trio of necessary skills with which to build a photographic practice: critical theory, art histories, and technique. Through a series of assignments and lectures, students will consider the overarching concepts that inform their work.

In the spirit of experimentation and play, drawing from research and everyday experience, students will test their theories in practice. Our time will be divided between group critiques and lectures. Students are expected to make images weekly towards the goal of producing a cohesive and original body of photographs and developing a generative practice based on a process of making, thinking, and remaking.

Necessary equipment and programs not provided: computer, hard drive, camera, and Adobe Creative Cloud Suite.

Wednesday 7:00 pm-8:00 pm, EST
Sunday 12:00 pm-3:00 pm, EST

Winter session: January 20–March 14, 2021

Open to all ages and levels; space is limited to 12 students, register now.

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THE BLACK DOLL

“With striking formal regularity and colourful geometric abstraction, her images are the result of the digital re-creation of pictures of vintage ethnic dolls from websites like Ebay. At the same time as expressing depersonalisation, they are similarly an attempt to challenge visual stereotypes, and to perhaps also re-appropriate colour from the symbolic taint of history.”
— Daniel Pateman (Photomonitor UK)




About This Project


African-American female slaves were the earliest makers of black dolls for their own children while the mass production of black dolls (for more seemingly sinister purposes) dates back to late 19th century toy production in Germany and France. By appropriating the listing photos of black vintage dolls for sale on e-commerce sites like Etsy and eBay, I have created a collection of new non-gestural, digital images rooted in the aesthetic tradition of geometric abstraction.


Across cultures, dolls have commonly been used to represent the human figure; to instill in girls a sense of care and maternity. Though for many children of color, the dolls chosen for us are also our first introduction to the divisive concept of “race”, specifically if the doll’s skin tone or features do not match our own.


As a child, the darkest doll I had was a Hawaiian Barbie that I coveted for her caramel skin, brown eyes and silky, jet-black hair that flowed past her waist. She was starkly different from your typical Barbie. As a mother, I question the roles dolls play in establishing conventional expressions of gender and racial identity. I am further interested in how the mass production of these dolls have perpetuated or upheld stereotypical opinions about femininity, motherhood and blackness.


The Black Doll series pairs each new abstracted image with the seller’s original item description, creating an interplay between social representation and personal memory. What happens when these doll images are (digitally) broken down into basic, formal elements of shape and color? What meaning, if any, can we derive from their descriptions/captions? Can abstraction be used to deconstruct racial and gender stereotypes?

What you see here is a selection of the images in this series, please contact me to inquire about viewing more.



Namesake






About This Project


The Namesake series is a selection of twenty-­five "photographs of photographs", made from the mugshots of predominantly Black and Latino women named Qiana. These women, including myself, were named after a synthetic polymer nylon manufactured in the 1960s by the global chemical company DuPont™. 

Founded in 1802, DuPont™ began as a manufacturer of gunpowder. During the American Civil War (1861-­1865) DuPont supplied half the gunpowder used by the Union Army. Due to political tensions with Japan in the 1930s, the United States could no longer procure silk, a strong natural fiber coveted for its domestic, industrial and commercial purposes. In the search for an alternative to silk, DuPont™ invented nylon in 1935.

First used in toothbrushes, nylon made its more fashionable debut at the 1939 World's Fair as women's stockings. Introduced in 1968, the Qiana® nylon was a cheaper alternative to silk yet just as luxurious and required no ironing. The fabric was used to manufacture clothing and accessories popular in the disco era, like "butterfly collar" shirts for men and the infamous Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress.

The name Qiana was created by "a computerized combination of random letters" and reached its height as a popular baby girl name in 1978. Qiana continues to be a common name given to African-American girls (sometimes spelled Kiana) and research has been done on this modern practice of unique naming conventions within North America's black communities.

In his 1986 essay, "The Body and the Archive", historian, critic and photographer Allan Sekula parallels the emergence of photography with the development of police acts and technologies of surveillance. 

Sekula’s essay led me to question the cooincidence of this online archive of presumed criminals who were my namesake, discovered one night through a Google Image search. Performing that search multiple times, I gathered over fifty mugshots of women named Qiana sprinkled amidst a sea of vapid selfies.

The images in the Namesake series were created by (re)photographing web-resolution mugshots sourced online. The results are abstracted and nebulous images with “bruisy” colors that metaphorically reference violence, like the black and blue marks that appear on a body after it’s experienced physical trauma.

These blurry photographs invalidate the original mugshots, depriving the criminal archive of its insidious, systematic intention. The Namesake series calls attention to symbiotic acts of violence that affect the identity of this peer group including racial profiling, mass incarceration, violation of privacy (online), corporate influence and consumerism.

What you see here is a selection of the images in this series, please contact me to inquire about viewing more.
©Qiana Mestrich 2011-2020 and Beyond!