A polka-dotted, plushly carpeted space, Ebony G. Patterson’s installation at Harlem’s Studio Museum appears to be simply a playroom at first glance. Building blocks, soccer balls, papier-mâche constructions, Hello Kitty backpacks, refrigerator magnets, rubber ducks, and even a miniature tent fill the room, plus a series of collages and photographs. Covered in stickers and rhinestones, those bedazzled portraits in particular exude a playful innocence—that is, until you realize that they’re also punctured by what appear to be bullet holes.
After all, as its slightly ominous title suggests, “…when they grow up…” isn’t simply about youth: It’s a confrontation of the violence so often directed at young people of color, from systemic mistreatment to police killings without indictment. Names of victims such as Tamir Rice may come to mind, but the models in Patterson’s portraits are still alive; part of the 34-year-old Jamaican artist’s aim to make the audience think of black youth as a whole, and how they are too often considered a threat. You can see the exhibit from now until June 26th, or view it on Instagram, where the brightly colored juxtaposition might be even more chilling.