This artist reimagines the past, depicting black women in exquisite period costumes made of paper

Updated: Mar 18


Part historical examination, part magical fashion exhibit, Haitian-born artist Fabiola Jean-Louis's new show at the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx reimagines the past through a series of beautiful, if haunting, portraits–and the paper gowns the models wear.

"Re-Writing History: A Black Ancestral Narrative" features a collection of photographs that resemble Baroque portraits hanging in an elegant parlor room. Here, though, the sitters are young black women, and they're wearing exquisite paper gowns made by the artist, which are presented alongside the photographs.

Hidden in both are smaller scenes showing the brutal violence black men and women have faced since colonial times.

In a second gallery, large-scale black-and-white Polaroids of black women present a starker, in-you-face reality reality: the women here are partially undressed, and wear much simpler paper bodices and skirts.

It turns out the paper used to make the garments is a big part of the conversation. On Instagram the artist references "the power of paper in the form of currency to buy human beings. Don't expect to see coins or dollar bills. Instead, look to interrogate the different meanings and uses of paper in our society...the heavy price that some of us have had to 'pay.'"

The end result is a retelling of history that's both breathtaking and powerful.

"Re-Writing History: A Black Ancestral Narrative" runs through May 11 at the Andrew Freedman Home, 1125 Grand Concourse.

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