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 (sometimes 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. Paula Mans seeks to critically address these pervasive power structures by amplifying the visibility and agency of the Black figure in her artistic practice. Her work has been curated into group shows in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and New York.
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 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.
Paula Mans creates figurative collages that engage in visual discourse surrounding the (in)visibility and agency of people of African descent. 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 and the viewer. The figures that the artist constructs do more than simply exist. They resist and insist.
Paula Mans uses monochrome throughout her work, employing a range of gray and black tones to express the rich pigments of Black skin. The figures are often cast against stark, bold, and textured backgrounds. This heightened contrast plays with notions of (in)visibility. Traditionally a two-dimensional medium, Paula Mans inserts textural abstraction and textiles into her collages, lending a sculptural and painterly quality to her mixed-media analog works.