The ‘Outsider art’ of Robyne Robinson

Like many artists, Channel 9 TV news anchor and CARAG resident Robyne Robinson is concerned about how her art will be received. "It makes me feel vulnerable because it's so personal," said the woman who never flinches on camera.

Along with works by eight other black artists, Robinson's pieces addressing racism and assimilation will be part of the free "African and African-American Show" in honor of Black History Month opening at Outsiders and Others Gallery, 1010 Park Ave. S. in Elliot Park, Saturday, Feb. 14.

Her works play on1930s beauty product advertisements that targeted black women. The subtle political statements illustrate how the urge to assimilate into mainstream American culture plays on racism and blacks' self-loathing.

"It's a real dichotomy in the black community; you can be loathed if you have light skin or be prized for being light-skinned," Robinson said. Her "Pandora's Boxes" illustrate this tension -- each black wooden box has a vintage Valmor "African American cosmetics" label on top, but open it up and you'll find a quote from a famous black author juxtaposed with lightening face cream or shoe polish.

Robinson found the authentic Valmor labels at antique stores on Chicago's North Side. Chicago businessman Morton Newman built his cosmetics company, Valmor Products, on the desire for assimilation. Valmor's lineup included Lucky Brown Pressing Oil, Madam Jones One Minute Skin Lightener and Magic Pink Foundation Cream. According to Robinson the messages implicit in such products has carried through generations of black culture.

Inside one box is a quotations from Langston Hughes: "I never felt so lonesome since I was born black." Another reads: "You so black that they'd have to throw a sheet over your head so the sun could rise every morning. I know your mama cried when she seen you."

In addition to the boxes, Robinson is showing her "Assimilation" sculpture: a standing metal oil funnel wrapped in an American flag with nappy black hair going into its wide top and blonde straight hair coming out of its narrow bottom.

Robinson confessed that she has her hair straightened, "in order to look assimilated and a certain way for television."

Opening night reception begins at 7 p.m. The exhibit runs Saturday, Feb. 14-March 13, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. and Thursdays noon-7 p.m. For more information, call 338-3435.