Paula Mans (b. 1986) is a self-taught painter, collagist, and art educator based in Washington, DC. While Paula is a native Washingtonian, she spent many of the formative years of her childhood and young adulthood living abroad in Tanzania, Mozambique, Eswatini, and Brazil. Her experiences throughout the African Diaspora shaped her identity and informed the development of her artistic voice. Living in Washington, DC and Salvador, Brazil has been particularly impactful for the artist. Both cities are diasporic meccas for Black cultural expression. DC (often referred to as Chocolate City) and Salvador (frequently called Roma Negra, or Black Rome in Portuguese) are famous for their prominent and influential Black populations. Nonetheless, racism and gentrification often render Black people invisible in both cities. In her artistic practice, Paula Mans seeks to deconstruct these pervasive power structures by amplifying the visibility and agency of the Black figure.
Paula Mans tells the many stories of the global Black experience through collage. The artist views collage as emblematic of the cultural and historical interconnectedness of the African Diaspora. Just as the dispersed people of the African Diaspora are tied together by the common thread of ancestry, in collage, small, seemingly disjointed pieces are fused to communicate one story. In her analog collage works, Paula draws from an extensive collection of portrait photography of people from across the Diaspora – cutting, deconstructing, layering, bonding, and resignifying small parts to assemble new faces and forms that communicate identity and shared experiences.
In her most recent body of work, entitled Resist | Insist, Paula Mans creates a series of monochromatic figurative collages that engage in visual discourse surrounding the (in)visibility and agency of people of African descent. In the Resist | Insist series, the artist’s prominent figures are rendered in seemingly mythic proportions, commanding attention and expressing authority. The works subvert notions of power, creating a visual plane that exists beyond the grasp of the White gaze. Rather than being images to be viewed and consumed, the figures look defiantly out onto the world. Just as the title of the series implies, her figures do more than simply exist. They resist and insist.
Paula Mans uses monochrome throughout the Resist | Insist series, employing a range of gray and black tones to represent the rich pigments of Black skin. The figures are often cast against stark, textured black and white backgrounds. This heightened contrast, or lack there of, plays with notions of (in)visibility. Traditionally a two-dimensional medium, Paula Mans inserts textural abstraction into her collages, lending a sculptural and painterly quality to her analog works.