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Patricia Carter, Allegory of a Surrogate Mother, 1998; oil on canvas, 49 ¼ x 49 ¼ inches; Gift of the Artist, 2004

Patricia Carter, Allegory of a Surrogate Mother, 1998; oil on canvas, 49 ¼ x 49 ¼ inches; Gift of the Artist, 2004

Patricia Carter’s painting, Allegory of a Surrogate Mother, challenges stereotypes of race and gender, particularly African American women’s roles as nannies, cleaners, and domestic workers at the service of Caucasian employers. These women are among those who struggled for Civil Rights in the segregated South, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56. Their mission for respect still continues across the U.S., which Carter brings to our attention by portraying the nanny twice. The surrogate mother patiently stands in the foreground, hand on hip, trying to soothe the reality of her job’s physical and emotional demands. Behind her and parted tapestry curtains is a painting that celebrates the true effect of her efforts: her adoration by cherubic children, such as one would see in religious paintings of the Renaissance period. The blue background signifies spirituality and a black and white tile floor represents the intersection of races within an interior domestic landscape. — NW