Pretty for a Black Girl

Robert Pruitt (b. 1975) Pretty for a Black Girl, 2005 Conte crayon on butcher paper 72 × 48 in. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase made possible by a gift from Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, New York 2005.20

The lower portion of this figure is beauty pageant–ready—clad in a bikini, cradling a bouquet of flowers, and posed for scrutiny—while the face and torso above are drawn from West African–inspired masks and sculpture. Robert Pruitt’s surreal image evokes the appropriation of West African artistic forms in early twentieth-century Western visual practice. The paradoxical figure also emphasizes the ways that Black women are stereotyped, commodified, and consumed for pleasure. The double-edged title, Pretty for a Black Girl, further implicates ideas of beauty, sexuality, and desire that are often projected onto Black women.