For the Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist Jasmine Murrell, the divine “noir-ness” of her birthplace, Detroit, Michigan is the natural base point of most of her artwork. “I grew up in Detroit around the time when it was 99% Black,” Murrell says proudly. “And so, everyone I knew was Black—my teachers, the dentist, the doctor. I knew different types of Black people. It was a very creative scene, not only for music, but booming for art.”
Murrell’s pan-Africanist parents cultured their family with theater, poetry and people, who were Black collectors of African American art. “I grew up seeing the art of Norman Lewis and Elizabeth Catlett; it was quite normal,” she recalls.
Moved by the evidence of time, older Black women are often the feature of Murrell’s artwork. “I wasn’t interested in young bodies,” she says. “I was intrigued with the idea of portraits of mature women—rolls, cellulite and all. I wanted to capture them in a sensual way.”
A graduate of sculpture, the artist constructed a stunning headpiece of warped, classic Detroit albums for the image The Unknown One. Referencing time as the theme of the photograph, Murrell has known the model/actress in the photograph since she was young. The bandage on the subject’s back indicates a rough patch in one’s life; Murrell’s offering here is regality in reality.
Her images Pink Poison and To Reaffirm Things That do Exist are photographic responses to the water crises in Detroit and Flint, and are inspired by real women and female activists fighting for fresh water. Murrell’s expression of environmental issues is depicted in the plastic bottles in the bathtub—a representation of the toxicity bathed in. “I wanted to create these portraits of this modern goddess power, but also something that shows their complexity— surviving and thriving in poison, raising children in poison,” explains the artists.
Deciphering what was on the heads of the regal women in Calling All Moonchildren Everywhere and Mother of Mothers, there was talk of clay and papier mâché; however, that was not the case—avocados were the chosen element. “The history of whatever material I use is really important to me. I think about where it comes from, what it means and also, as an artist, trying to create my own visual language. I was so intrigued with these avocado skins, they were like these throwaway things. They were so organic—womb-like, breast-like. I lived with hundreds of them. That’s when I started making sculptures and headdresses.”
On a stay in Ethiopia, Murrell captured Holes, a pool of depth and a beckoning light promising something fantastic on the other side: a birth canal. Accordingly,“it’s like a portal,” she says. “I was really drawn to openings and doors at that time. But it’s also like the vagina, the original portal. It gives me this feeling of limitless possibilities.”
View more of Murrell’s work at jasminemurrell.com