Ulrich Virtual Series with Renée Stout reflects on what inspires her artwork


Art is versatile and meaningful to those that use its power to speak to the public. Renée Stout makes audience’s think deeply about her artwork.

On April 13, Stout was featured in the Ulrich’s museum of art virtual series for an artist talk.

“Renée Stout is a contemporary American artist whose work is renowned for its potent reflections on African American heritage and visual culture of the African diaspora,” Ksenya Gurshtein, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum of Art said.

Stout said that when she was in fourth grade, her teacher told her parents to enroll her in art classes on Saturdays because of her talent. 

In 1976-1980 when she was attending Carnegie Mellon University, the artist she was most influenced by was Edward Hoppers, and eventually more photorealistic artists.

As an African American artist, she began looking at african art more and decided to make a mold out of her body called “Fetish Number Two”, standing at five feet tall.

“At this point in time, I really started looking into African art and when I really started to look at the philosophy and reasons for some of the ceremonial objects being created . . . the spiritually that was driven by the belief that nature, human beings, everybody has to be in harmony for everything else to exist. I looked into that philosophy when it came to grounding myself as an African American woman,” Stout said.

When she first visited New Orleans, she learned about how slaves had retained their spiritual belief system and brought it with them over to America.

“I started to connect those ancient African American belief systems with contemporary, modern America and how they still persist,” Stout said

Another piece that Stout created was a piece about politicians not telling the truth. It was made out of computer parts that would watch someone speaking and see if they are lying.

“There are times when my work goes in and out of the personal to the political and then back-and-forth, and at certain times I was very concerned about a whole lot of political issues going on . . . I decided to do a series of pieces on a long line of freedom fighters like John Brown,” Stout said.

Guns represented freedom fighters in the installation and it was a symbolism of fighting back, even though the guns aren’t real in the piece.

In 1990, Stout developed an alter ego due to her being an introvert. She was based on a fortune teller she had met in Pittsburgh.

In 2006, Stout saw that she was evolving and her alter ego didn’t represent her anymore, so a new alter ego developed who was also a fortune teller and an abstract thinker who can see what is going on in society so she can help her community. She would show her interior via art installations.

She began wondering what this alter ego looked like, and putting on wigs and outfits she never would have worn. Stout said that her alter egos help her project what kind of person that she wants to become, and then grow into those alter ego’s.

“At the age that I am now, I don’t need the alter ego’s anymore. Yes, I’m still introverted, but Renee has no filters on her mouth anymore. I am who I am, I’ve grown into the woman I want to be. She still functions as the protagonist in some of my artwork,” Stout said.

In 2015, she felt the country was at a crossroads and had a feeling that something was wrong. 

“This whole show was me trying to get out the feeling that we need to make the right decisions . . . get back to concepts like civility, humility, compassion and love and seeing people as human beings,” Stout said. “I already felt like we were going to go into strange times and I created these pieces to sort of communicate that.”

In her 2018 show, she decided that in order to be able to cope she needed to create a parallel universe to remind her that even if she is in the situation, she can still be separate and not let it consume her. The individual looking into the parallel universe in the artwork represents that he will transcend this and how even though people might view him a certain way, he knows who he is. She made another painting featuring a guardian of the parallel universe.

“I am going to protect this parallel universe, and in this parallel universe I am in charge and he is not revealing anything about himself because that would reveal his own power . . . he is based on a person I met in New Orleans in 2018,” Stout said.

Stout’s work does align with the philosophy on afrofuturism, which speaks on the idea of looking towards the future.

“We have to transcend what we are going through now in order to get to where we see ourselves . . . I am constructing a world that I see for myself, and it helps me to evolve and transcend all that we are going through,” Stout said.

Stout said that she is always thinking about the past, present and future simultaneously. 

“I do it the way I do it because I don’t feel like people should be ashamed of their indeginous religions and how it helped them get through certain circumstances,” Stout said. “One of the reasons for my work is to bring it out into the open and to pay homage to it and keep it going.”

Renée Stout: Ghosts is on view Jan. 21 to May 8 at the Ulrich Museum of Art.