St. James Guide to Black Artists
Edited by Thomas Riggs, published by St. James Press, Detroit, 1997, pp. 7-8.


Tina Allen

By Eric Hanks

Tina Allen is a sculptor who has strong feelings about why she creates art. Her primary mission is to destroy negative stereotypes of African Americans. Her medium is bronze. Most of Allen's work can be classified as historical-figurative. It should be noted, however, that she has created a large and growing body of work that might fall into the category of abstract-figurative.

The two principal features of Allen's historical-figurative work are the use of famous persons of African descent as subjects and a larger-than-life scale. Among her subjects are former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, author Alex Haley, legendary civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and South African political prisoner-turned president Nelson Mandela. The scale of Allen's work is quite large. For example, her rendering of Alex Haley is twelve feet tall, while A. Philip Randolph stands more than nine feet in height.

The large size of the artist's works emphasizes the importance of these figures, but the essence of each subject's African heritage is also stressed. Their hair, lips, noses are not exaggerated but accentuated to demonstrate pride in the physical beauty of African ancestry.

In contrast to Allen's historical-figurative work, her abstract-figurative style stresses form over detail. Here she's mostly interested in capturing the essence of the subject to convey her ideas on the nature of black beauty. Allen idealizes African American women in many of these pieces. In Door of Life, a bronze piece with a marble patina, the body is twisted, as if dancing. The subject is an African woman's hips. The message is twofold. First, Africa is the mother of humanity. The oldest human remains were found there. Second, all human beings pass through the door of life, our mother's birth canal. Consequently, we ought to respect womanhood. The piece's marble patina and two-step pedestal reinforce the importance and idealization of the subject.

Another example is Body of Woman. In this piece a woman's body is stretched and curved to form an encasement around a pyramid with a high-polished golden bronze patina. The pyramid is a symbol of stability and the greatness of African culture. For Allen it represents the highest expression of African American organizational abilities–that black America's foundation is on something solid and stable. The gold patina further exalts the pyramid. The look on the woman's face is one of peaceful contentment and devotion to her role as protector.

Steal Away is a piece named after a gospel song. (According to the artist, the title is a reminder of how African slaves would steal away to freedom via the underground railroad.) It is a female body with a polished bronze patina, big thighs, and broad hips. She leans backward and up; instead of arms she has nubs that look like two flames when viewed from the front. Her pose is one of celebration, freedom, and the glorification of the black female figure. Again the golden patina and two-step pedestal are used to reinforce the ennobling effect of the figure.

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