While it may be a bit of a drive up the interstate, Columbia, S.C., is worth a trip for its kickass museum alone. Currently undergoing renovations, the Columbia Museum of Art offers half-price admission tickets. And the reno isn’t keeping the museum from cranking out important exhibits, either. Starting Fri. Dec. 15 you can check out the latest exhibit, Renee Cox: Soul Culture, on display through next April.

Museum curator Catherine Walworth says, “Throughout her career, Cox has subverted everything from the expectations of women in art programs to the telling of history and legend, rewriting it by inserting her own image as a strong black woman into the role of lead character, superhero, and even Jesus at the Last Supper.”

That Jesus at the Last Supper reference points to a 1996 five-panel photograph, “Yo Mama’s Last Supper,” which features a naked Cox, posing as Jesus. The work made headlines in 2001 after then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights decided to create a task force to set “decency standards” for the Brooklyn Museum, where the work was being displayed.

The Amsterdam News claimed “Rudy’s Wrong Again,American Legacy Magazine wrote, “The artist Renee Cox is not afraid of controversy; her unwavering commitment remains to create art that challenges how we look at people of color,” and The Daily News featured two headlines on the subject — “Egan on ‘Yo Mama’ Artist: She’s Pathetic,” and “‘Yo Mama’ rips Rudy.” Egan, by the way, refers to Cardinal Egan, former Archbishop of New York.

Needless to say, Cox is no stranger to controversy. Now, though, instead of reinterpreting Christian religious scenes, Cox “pushes the envelope” by incorporating new technologies, working from both her archives and new subjects to create kaleidoscopic paintings.

Soul Culture features mandala-like reliefs influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religious art, the visual escapism of 1960s psychedelia, and the use of fractals in African culture. Cox describes the viewing experience of Soul Culture as “engaging the viewer in a profoundly different way, bringing a certain peace, reflection, and joy.”

Check out more of her works at columbiamuseum.org or reneecox.org.

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