As penned by the volition of whiteness, the script for Black children has historically perpetuated problematic, supremacy-serving conditions. Observing the absence of nourishing depictions of Black children, Jacqueline Gopie began painting Caribbean youngsters in more positive contexts than the typical “happy children in a poor environment” scenarios in American popular culture. Historically, images celebrating the complexity of black life, including positive depictions, have been suppressed in mainstream publication, but the rise of Black media during the heyday of print publishing in the ‘50s and ‘60s disrupted this representational racism. Knowing how “repeated exposure to negative images of Black and Brown people...not only creates but also confirms racist reactions—both for Black and White people,” Gopie understands the need for a restorative process. In a society where our visual cortex leads us to equate repetition with normativity, forming biased instincts from within, Gopie’s youthful figures are shown in serenity, sometimes lost in their own private thoughts. Thinking, not acting. Riding a bicycle in Port Royal, Jamaica, becomes an act of defiance against all the imagery where young Black kids have little room for themselves and their chosen contemplation. Balancing realism with abstraction Gopie paints open spaces where kids can just be kids, young people with valid emotions and ideas in various modes of play—all conditions that whiteness allows its weaponized citizenry, but kids of color are hardly given the same latitude.4 Making possibilities for an adolescent imaginary, the colors of Gopie’s paintings evoke the natural light of sunsets, and waterside hues with plenty of sky to dream into.
4 My use of ‘weaponized’ in this context emerged from a tweet by DeRay McKeeson on August 23, 2015, one year and two weeks after Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, MO: “In this America, black folk are never unarmed because white supremacy has weaponized blackness.” White supremacy does not just weaponize non-whites, but also maintains its own weaponizing mechanisms. McKeeson’s tweet clarifies how we are all weaponized in different ways but from different positions of power. https://twitter.com/deray/status/635443058679615488
Josh T. Franco, PhD
Jacqueline Gopie’s bodies barely hold together. In the solitary Bicycle Rider, the young figure’s waist is barely discernible from the horizon line, which on the vertical edges of the painting seem far behind where he stands. The same yellow-green demarcating the bottom of the upper third of the canvas swaddles around (through?) his body where his hips meet his lower abdomen. If not for the darkness of his arm skin and a pink triangle disrupting the green field below his right armpit and above the distant horizon, his entire torso might collapse indiscriminately into the landscape. Though this sounds disturbing, Gopie’s facility with color and composition—deftly hovering between figuration and abstraction—produces a painting that is anything but. The overall tone also describes the colors directly. It’s just dissonant enough in that ‘80s Miami way to unsettle, but confectionery too. They impress like the Caribbean ocean on a calm day at noon, open and inviting but clearly loaded with more complex content just beneath the surface. And complexity there is, as these paintings manifest Gopie’s dual missions. One is to invoke the experience of adolescence, a constant exercise in holding it all together, or putting it all together for the very first time, while also indulging in the arguably freest lifestage for most. More specifically, Gopie is actively countering the typical images of Black male youth circulating via everyday media. Her scenes, based on real moments of play and tenderness to which she is witness, will quietly infiltrate that circulation toward its end.