Tarver’s work considers associations between representations of race, gender, and place. After spending time working on a project in New Orleans she began to consider the specific assumptions related to voodoo, magic, and swamps. Combining this with the idea of an archetypical woman/nymph/muse, Tarver created a series of figurative watercolors on tarot card-sized paper, depicting nude women lounging, swimming and bathing in tropical settings.

With a vivid, but specific palette, Tarver’s watercolors act as small, seductive portals, inviting the viewer to become the voyeur. Her subjects are seemingly unaware that they are being observed and appear relaxed, vulnerable and immodest—as though if they did discover they were being watched they wouldn’t really mind. Here Tarver plays with the trope of the oversexualized, scantily clad woman in the jungle. In some ways Tarver is answering the likes of Paul Gauguin, who co-opted and exported a mythologized narrative about exotic life in a tropical paradise with his paintings of nude, brown-skinned Tahitian girls. She actively mines this territory of objectification and illusion perpetuated by patriarchal, colonialist points of view. Other than their skin color and gendered features, her figurative washes lack identifying characteristics—each is at once a specific woman and many women. Like a mirage, these mystical bodies in the jungle are an optical illusion, the human mind is given reign to complete their narrative. Subtlety, Tarver has reminded us of the ways that seemingly innocent viewership in fact plays an active role in perpetuating myth.

Adrienne Elise Tarver is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Her work addresses the complexity and invisibility of the black female identity in the American landscape—from the history within domestic spaces to the fantasy of the tropical seductress. She has exhibited nationally and abroad, including solo exhibitions at Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space in Bronx, NY; Victori+Mo in Brooklyn, NY; BRIC Project Room in Brooklyn, New York; A-M Gallery in Sydney, Australia; and Art Matrix in Chicago, Illinois. She was selected by ArtNet as one of “14 Emerging Female Artists to watch in 2017." She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from Boston University.