Lagos Ladies (Gbemi, Bisi, Niki, Christy)

Portrait of four women in white dresses against a white background.

Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Lagos Ladies (Gbemi, Bisi, Niki, Christy), 1978
Oil, acrylic, and Magna on canvas
72 × 60 in. (182.9 × 152.4 cm)
Private collection
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


In 1977, Hendricks traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to attend FESTAC (Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture). There he met these women, who worked as cooks at a hotel. Photographs show them outdoors, standing on sandy ground. Transporting them to the flatness of a white-on-white painting, Hendricks showcases the range of the women’s skin tones and variety of their shoes. An early critic accused Hendricks of using the “same all-purpose brown” for his figures, on which the artist later reflected: “Damn, even Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles can see a difference in the variety of skin handling I was involved with! The attempt on my part is always to address the beauty and variety of complexion colors that we call Black.” Painting about a hundred years earlier, the American artist James McNeill Whistler (whose portraits are in the Frick's collection) also experimented with form, limited palettes, and flesh color in his portraits.

  537 — Speaker: Zoé Whitley
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