Barkley L. Hendricks’s paintings are portraits of real-life characters who have ‘piqued his curiosity’

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Barkley L. Hendricks is an American painter best known for his realist and post-modern portraits. Family Jules: NNN (No Naked Niggahs) 1974 currently on display in Tate Modern - is one of four paintings that Barkley L. Hendricks made featuring a former student of his at Yale University, George Jules Taylor. In an apparently orientalising interior, he is shown on a luxurious white couch in complete confidence of his nakedness. By positioning a naked black male figure in the place of the traditional female ‘odalisque’, Hendricks adopted an extremely radical stance. As his challenging subtitle underlines, the painting confronts white fears and sexual stereotypes surrounding the black male. While many artists turned to African art to make idealised images of black subjects, he made more realistic images of everyday black figures. Furthermore, in Family Jules, Hendricks not only confronted tendencies to Africanise or idealise the black body, but also tackled the reluctance of black artists to represent naked subjects long associated with exploitative images.

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