“A Bronx-Brooklyn Queen is a woman who is self-assured and self-confident without being cocky or egotistical,” artist Tim Okamura explained to The Huffington Post, “who knows that the source of her beauty is internal, and is then transmitted externally; a woman who commands respect and admiration because of the positive energy she radiates.”
Okamura came up with the term himself, inspired by the strength and grace of so many of the women he encounters on the streets of New York. Although the title specifically references the majesties of Brooklyn and the Bronx, his series depicts New York women from all five boroughs.
“She defies stereotype and is impervious to prejudice and superficial judgement,” he continued. “She leads by example and inspires others to elevate their consciousness in the same way she has. Her light shines unconditionally as she has manifested the queen she was destined to be.”
The artist was listening to 3rd Bass’ song “Brooklyn Queens” when the idea first came to him — to portray the women he admired as undercover royalty, the iconic urban emblems of New York serving as regal insignias.
For his subjects, Okamura enlisted mostly friends he’d known for years, and a few new queens he met during the painting process. “Typically, I see a particular spark in someone’s eyes that draws me to them, something about their energy I find compelling. I sort of trust that the universe will put me in contact with people that I’m supposed to paint. It’s a gut feeling and when I delve further into their personal story it always seems to confirm my instincts.”
Generally, Okamura didn’t need to give his subjects a whole lot of direction other than the main instruction of his shoots: be yourself. “I wanted them to tap into the ‘regal’ aspect of their natural state, just to project being a queen in a way that felt right to them. I’m just looking for that moment of truth when someone poses, and try to then capture that on canvas.”
The stunning paintings juxtapose hoodies and tiaras, graffiti and golden crests, as everyday queens assume the poses immortalized in Renaissance and Baroque portraits. In the vein of artists like Kehinde Wiley, Rashaad Newsome and Frohawk Two Feathers, Okamura endows contemporary black subjects with imagery traditionally associated with classical status and prestige, simultaneously alluding to the dearth of black bodies in art history.
Through the series, Okamura hopes to inspire his viewers to discover and nourish their own inner queens. “I hope that people find themselves compelled to spend some time with the work, to move beyond that initial visceral reaction of ‘this is a portrait of someone I don’t know’ and really discover deeper connections, hidden layers to the narratives,” he added, “and perhaps metaphors for the human condition we are all experiencing.”
Okamura’s work will be on view at Gallery Josephine in Martha’s Vineyard, starting June 18, 2016.