Iona Rozeal Brown

Article Bio Works Merits Projects
racism, sexuality
Visual Arts (painting)
created on:
August 20, 2007
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since August 27, 2007. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:
Other languages:


Pictorial reflections on the globalization of afro-American cultures

Iona Rozeal Brown was late in turning to visual art but then shot into the limelight. Long fond of far eastern cultures and close to afro-American hip-hop, she was drawn to the ganguro - young Japanese women who darken their skin and crinkle their hair to look African. Using acryl she then began to portray them, and sometimes men, with hip-hop requisites. They now appear huge on paper in the style of coloured Japanese woodcuts (ukiyo-e) from the Edo period. The style and content highlight the ambiguities of this cultural transfer and its repercussions on both sides.
Already as a child, due to the prompting of her parents, Iona Rozeal Brown was drawn to Asian cultures and had Asian friends. She was later inspired by Joe Wood’s ‘The Yellow Negro’ (1997), a book about Japanese youngsters’ interest in afro-Americans and especially hip-hop culture, and by Arthur S. Golden’s famous novel ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ (1997). She then portrayed herself as a geisha several times and, in reflecting on authenticity, mimicry and changes of identity, resolved to visit Japan. In an interview with the curator of the exhibition ‘New York – States of Mind’ in the House of World Cultures, Brown said: ‘What’s really interesting is being in another country and seeing how hip-hop is worn. It makes you wonder: who is putting this out here? Because there were a lot of the commercial gestures, a lot of the hats on the side, the swaggers, the crotch grabbing and the rubbing and the claiming to be from a particular field, if you will.’
Brown soon realized that this interest was due mainly to music videos, the Internet and popular magazines like ‘Vibe’ and ‘Source’. In distancing themselves from their parents’ stiff conservatism, young Japanese are drawn mainly to spectacles and entertainment, even of the home-grown variety. ‘But it seems that there’s a sort of threshold that has been crossed, after which it becomes more exploitation than anything else, and that’s where I tend to have some problems with it.’ About hip-hop’s genesis in the late 70s she says: ‘It felt more community-based, it felt more about the art itself, but back then no one was getting paid.’
Brown processed her experiences in Japan, especially with the ganguros, young women who began in the early 90s to darken their skin and to dress in eccentric fashions. Her acryl paintings refer back to samurais and courtesans of the ukiyo-e (literally ‘pictures of the world in flux’) shown in some coloured woodcuts of urban society in the Edo (Tokyo) period about 1800. Brown called her own series of portraits ‘a3... Blackface’ (2002-04), whereby a3 stands for ‘afro-Asian allegory’. Later she also based her works on erotic prints of the ukiyo-e, the so-called shunga, in which an enlarged penis is the main protagonist.
Since the darkening of the faces in her portraits is plainly artifice, the mimicry is evident. Jewellery, hats, clothes and other accessories point to a cultural source in the USA, where whites had already emulated blacks, as earlier in minstrel shows and later in blackface performances. In an ironic and paradoxical way, Brown’s pictures question emulation, protest, entertainment, creativity, violence, innovation, commercialization and racial clichés. These are already found in the ambivalence of hip-hop culture itself and pose questions unanswered by the artist.
Author: Michael Nungesser


Iona Rozeal Brown was born in 1966 in Washington and since 2005 has been living and working in Chillum / Maryland. In 1991 she gained a B.Sc. in Kinesiological Sciences at the University of Maryland in College Park, then from 1994-95 she studied at Montgomery County Community College in Takoma Park / Maryland, from 1996-97 at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn / New York, from 1997-99 at the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco / California, where she gained a BFA, and in 1999 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan / Maine. In 2002 she gained a MFA in painting at the Yale University School of Art in New Haven / Connecticut. She also works as a DJ. In 2001 she travelled to Asia and in 2005 got a grant enabling her to live for half a year as a guest artist in Japan, where she then studied kabuki drama. Works by Iona Rozeal Brown are to be seen in the Altoids Curiously Strong Art Collection, in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford / Connecticut, in the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco / California and in the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York.



Exhibition / Installation
Matt Bamberg, Armand Hammer Museum has thought-provoking Work, in: The Desert Sun, 2.2.2003. Iona Rozeal Brown: Self-Portrait, in: Tema Celeste, No. 95, January/February 2003, pp. 76-77. Rebecca Dimmling Cochran, Stella Lai and Iona Rozeal Brown at Saltworks, in: Art in America, November 2006. Jessica Dawson, G Fine Art´s Kitsch and Makeup. Iona Rozeal Brown melds hip-hop - bling and Asian imagery, in: The Washington Post, 4.11.2004, p. C05. Peter Frank, Paperchase, in: Art on Paper, April 2003, pp. 36-39. Benjamin Genocchio: Iona Rozeal Brown, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in: New York Times, 4.4.2004. Sarah Godfrey, in: City Paper (Washington), 13.8.2004. Blake Gopnik, Art and Race, Making a Memorable Appearance, in: The Washington Post, Arts Section, 6.4.2003. Joe Hill, OnLine, in: Contemporary, No. 66, pp. 73-74. Rose Apodaca Jones, Gangsta Geisha, in: Women’s Wear Daily, 16.9.2002. Christopher Knight, Richly drawn from drawings, in: Los Angeles Times, March 2003 Debra Koppman, International Paper, in: Previews, February 2003. Sommer Mathis, Paper Trail. Global Culture Lends Contemporary Exhibit Wide Spectrum of Artistic Creations. Bringing New Life to Fiber as a Medium, in: Daily Bruin, January 2003. Mary Jo Palumbo, Artist’s Japanese-style prints add new translation to hip-hop, in: Boston Herald, 10.4.2004. Margaret Regan, Honor Bound: A famous samurai tale is immortalized at the UAMA, in: Tucson Weekly, 28.12.2006. Charles H. Rowell (pub.), Callaloo: A Journal of Afro-American and African Arts and Letters, Year 29, No. 3, Summer 2006. Roberta Swithh, Roland Flexner; Iona Rozeal Brown, in: New York Times, 11.10.2002, p. E38. Alex Worman, L.A. Confidential, in: ARTNET, 15.2.2003. Carmen Zita, Bites of Style, in: Trace, No. 43, May 2003, pp. 36-37. Intelligent Work Forges Links, in: Los Angeles Times, October 2002.


Exhibition / Installation
2006 “Dragon Veins”, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Mueum, Tampa / Florida “Work Zones: Three Decades of Contemporary Art from San Francisco Art Institute”, Walter & McBean Galleries, San Francisco / California (Curator: Okwui Enwezor) “Stereotypes: Confronting Cliches”, McColl Center for Visual Art, Charlotte / North Carolina (Curator: June Lambla) “Complicit: Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture”, University of Virginia Museum of Art, Emeryville / California (Curators: Johanna Drucker, Andrea Douglas and Jill Hartz) 2005 “d’Afrique d’Asie”, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, New York “Bodies of Evidence”, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, Rhode Island / New York 2004 “Notorious Impropriety”, Samson Projects, Boston / Massachusetts (Curator: Franklin Sirmans) “Matrix 152”, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford / Connecticut “New Visions: Emerging Trends in African American Art“, Smithsonian Institute, Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Washington /D.C. 2003-04 “BlackBelt”, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; then: Santa Monica Museum of Art (C) 2003 “International paper: drawings by emerging artists“, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles / California (C) “Transcontinental” New Image Art, West Hollywood / California “Census 03”, Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington / D.C. “OnLine”, Feigen Contemporary, New York (Curators: Charlie Finch, George Negroponte and Robert Storr) “Skin Deep”, Numark Gallery, Washington / D.C. “Americas Remixed” Commune di Milano, Mailand (C; Curator: Franklin Sirmans, “International Paper: Drawings by Emerging Artists,” UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles / California (C) 2002-3 “Mass Appeal: The Art Object and Hip Hop Culture” (Curator: Franklin Sirmans), mobile exhibition: Gallery 101 Ottawa; Arts Intercultural, Montreal / Quebec; The Khyber Centre for the Arts, Halifax / Nova Scotia; The Owens Art Gallery, Sackville / New Brunswick 2002 “Champion”, Zinc Gallery, Stockholm (Curator: Sheldon LaPierre) 1999 Skowhegan Film Festival, Skowhegan / Maryland (video screening) Radical Performance Fest, Somart Gallery. San Francisco / California “Zyzzyva in Black and White“, Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco / California (Curator: Naomie Kramer und Howard Junker) 1998 “Ultra Down“, The Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco / California “Afro Solo“, Z Space Studio, San Francisco, California “Portraiture“, The Abstract Zone, Emeryville / California “Bused“, Crucible Cell Gallery, San Francisco / California


Exhibition / Installation
2007-08 “Iona Rozeal Brown”, Quality Pictures, Portland / Oregon 2007 “Iona Rozeal Brown”, Cheekwood, Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, Nashville / Tennessee 2006-07 “Blending Lines”, G Fine Art, Washington / D.C. “The Faithful Samurai: Utagawa Kuniyoshi Woodblock Prints and Paintings by Iona Rozeal Brown”, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson / Arizona 2006 “When the East is in the House“, Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta / Georgia (with Stella Lai) 2004 “a3 the revolution: televised, terrorized, sexualized”, Caren Golden Fine Art, New York “Iona Rozeal Brown”, Sandroni Rey Gallery, Los Angeles / California “Iona Rozeal Brown”, G Fine Art, Washington / D.C. “Bling BlAsian Bling” The Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco / California (with Stella Lai; Curators: Darryl Smith and Laurie Lazer) “Matrix 152”, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford / Connecticut 2003-04 “a3... “black on both sides”, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta / Georgia (C; Curator and text by Andrea D. Barnwell) 2003 “a3…”black on both sides”, Solo installation at Scope Art Fair, Miami / Florida 2002 “a3…”black on both sides”, Caren Golden Fine Art, New York “a3…”black on both sides”, Sandroni Rey, Los Angeles / California 2000 “Homecoming”, Pavillion Fine Arts, Takoma Park / Maryland 1999 “Many faces”, Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco / California 1995 “Iona 101”, Gallery Upstairs, Takoma Park / Maryland “Soul Tapping”, St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.


Richard C. Diebenkorn Teaching Fellow, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco / California

US Japan Creative Artists Fellowship

Matrix Artist, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Blair Dickinson Award, Yale University, New Haven / Connecticut

Schickle-Collingwood Prize, Yale University, New Haven / Connecticut

Camille Hanks Crosby Fellowship, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture

Honor Student Painting Studio, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco / California
Supplemental Materials Award, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco / Caifornia

Merit Scholarship, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco / California
Student Grant, San Francisco Art Institute, San

Merit Scholarship, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn / New York
Presidential Grant, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn / New York

Women’s Community Art Award, Montgomery County Community
College, Takoma Park / Maryland


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

New York

Exhibition, Film Programme, Music, Conferences

(23 August 07 - 04 November 07)