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Barbara Bullock's "Ubiquitous Presence": Embodying the Women of "They Carried Us"

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

“While Bullock renders her figures in black after the 1990s, she often incorporates other colors within their visage to signal that they are part of the spiritual realm, and quite possibly spirits, ancestors, and even ghosts.” –A.M. Weaver, in Barbara Bullock: Chasing After Spirits, 2016

The Female Spirit

There is something soothing, revelatory, and yet “in your face,” about Barbara’s embrace of the color black. It is what washes over you when viewing “Ubiquitous Presence,” a work that grabs the viewer’s attention with a sense of overwhelming black woman power. It is an image at home on the cover of They Carried Us.

The music from Miles Davis’ album, Bitches Brew (1970), inspired Barbara to create a series of artworks, beginning with Panther’s Garden, itself anchored by a powerful three-dimensional collage of a panther. Later, she fashioned an equally powerful female spirit to add to the garden, and it is a photograph of that female spirit that was chosen as the cover art for They Carried Us. Barbara envisioned her as one of several forms and shapes that move around the panther in its garden.

Your eyes are drawn to the burst of feathery color nestled onto one of the “shoulders” of the figure. They are a bright contrast to the deeply resonant black. Petals, perhaps. The barely noticeable beetle near the bottom of the figure is part of the ambience of the garden.

Sitting on her other shoulder, resting on her long, elegant neck, is The Sage. Created over 20 years ago, Barbara placed it on this female spirit as a teacher, or a wise one, whispering in her ear.

Her lips. Her big, luscious lavender lips. They are a Black woman’s lips.

Barbara spent months layering acrylic paint, matte medium, and fabric paint onto 300-pound heavy, watercolor paper. The layering of paint and the shaping of paper is why her work in this medium is described as “sculpture.”

Embodying the Women of They Carried Us

We needed cover art for the book. Not being artists ourselves, we at first naively thought we would create some kind of collage of the women’s photographs. But no cover could contain the images of 95 women. We needed something symbolic to represent them.

Barbara graciously insisted that we comb through her studio for what we needed. Before we knew its name, before we understood anything about its constituent parts, we fell in love with “Ubiquitous Presence:” powerful, unmistakably black, and beautiful beyond measure.

Barbara has created images and sculptures that symbolize powerful Black women throughout her career. Her vision of woman power and beauty are intertwined in necks, legs, arms, buttocks, feet, breasts, and lips— all presented as sufficient, robust, muscular, towering, and exquisite.

These qualities, expressed in “Ubiquitous Presence,” symbolize the women of They Carried Us.

The original artwork is in the collection of James and Jennifer Nixon.

(Photos - "Barbara's Kitchen..." and book cover art "Ubiquitous Presence")

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