Renée Stout is a Washington, D.C., artist whose paintings and sculptures have earned her international recognition. Stout’s assemblages incorporate found objects, African symbols, remnants of stories and letters, and vintage photographs.
Renee Stout grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980. In 1985 she moved to Washington, D.C. and began to explore the roots of her African American heritage. She looks to the belief systems of African peoples and their descendants throughout the African Diaspora, as well as to the world and her immediate environment, for the inspiration to create works that encourage self-examination, self-empowerment and self-healing.
A dark edge of her artwork followed her move to D.C., where she witnessed sordid truths behind urban decay and city life. Rampant drug use and racial stereotyping are among the issues Stout directly confronts in mixed-media works. Fictional narratives with imaginary characters derived from the artist’s alter ego trace her personal history and spiritual journey as a woman and artist.
Starting with simple, house-shaped boxes into which she put feathers, beadwork she herself created, tiny bones, buttons, and memorabilia of family members, Stout progressed to creating “divining tables” and room-size installations. At the same time, she began developing an ongoing fictional narrative- the story of the stay-at-home Dorothy and the African explorer Colonel Frank- which she recorded in notebooks and which became another thread tying her work firmly to American and African traditions.
Stout’s constructions from this period debuted in Black Art: Ancestral Legacy, a major traveling show that brought her national attention. In 1993 her work was given a solo exhibition at the National Museum of African Art, Astonishment and Power, in conjunction with a survey of Kongo minkisi objects.
The lives of Stout’s imaginary characters unfold in a variety of media, including painting, mixed media sculpture, photography and installation. The recipient of awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Stout has shown her work in solo and group shows throughout the United States, and in England, Russia and the Netherlands.
“The common thread running through bodies of my work of the past several years is the continuing need for self discovery and the need to understand and make sense of human motives and the way we relate and respond to each other.
The process of working out the many questions I have about the human condition directly through my work has been both cathartic and empowering. The alter ego Fatima Mayfield, a fictitious herbalist/fortuneteller, is the vehicle that allows me to role play in order to confront the issues, whether it’s romantic relationships, social ills, or financial woes, in a way that’s open, creative and humorous.
As a visual artist, I choose to explore these ideas and concerns through the variety of media that’s available to me. Originally trained as a painter, I came to realize that my creative vision was so expansive it would be confining for me to limit myself to creating in one medium for my entire career. When an idea hits me, I immediately decide which materials will best allow me to make that idea tangible. As a result, my bodies of work have included paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photography. I see each one of my pieces as a fragment or installment in an ongoing narrative that’s my contribution to telling the story of who we are as a society at this point in time.” – Renee Stout 
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Complexity, Astonishment and Power: The Visual Vocabulary of Kongo Minkisi
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