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Gallery

Women of the African diaspora crowned with elaborate headpieces, celebrating might, independence, and heart.

Selections from Tamara Natalie Madden’s new series “The Guardians.”

Jamaican-born Tamara Natalie Madden is a painter, writer, and photographer based in Atlanta. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the New York Times, the Jamaican Gleaner, and Upscale Magazine. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of Vanderbilt University and London’s Bridgeman Art Library.

Images used with permission, all © the artist, all rights reserved.

The Morning News:

Who are the characters in your paintings? Are they people you know or fictional?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

The majority of my paintings are of real people that I have photographed. Occasionally, I create fictional images, or I fuse different people together. I strive to paint real people because my main goal is to heighten each individual or show them in a different light.

The Morning News:

Which piece in this series was the most enjoyable to create?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

The first piece in the series is called, “Conqueror,” and it was the most fulfilling. I enjoyed creating a new type of headpiece, and I like the colors in the painting. It was the beginning of something that was a bit different from the other pieces I had done. The girl in the painting is my muse. I have been painting her since she was nine years old, and her face inspires me.

The Morning News:

Why are all the guardians female?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

There is no particular reason. I had considered painting men, but I find that I paint a lot of women in general. I believe that I subconsciously paint women a lot because I come from a family of women. I have many aunts and the strongest woman I’ve ever known—my grandmother—raised me. Men were around, but the women have always been my protectors, caretakers, and support system. “The Guardians” are symbolic of those that protect nature, beauty, spirituality, and a myriad of other things—they are the warriors. The paintings are metaphors for the unknown—the mystical and sometimes the literal.

The Morning News:

You were born in Jamaica and left the country as an adolescent. What prompted your family’s move to Wisconsin?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

While my grandmother was raising me in the Jamaican countryside, my mother was in America finishing her education and preparing a place for me. Like many foreigners, the idea of coming to America to secure a purported “better life” was at the forefront of my mother’s mind, and as her child I had to follow suit. At the time, Milwaukee was listed as one of the best cities to raise children. I can only deduce that my mother felt that it would be a good place for me.

The Morning News:

Like you, I emigrated to the States at a young age, and people often ask if I feel more attached to—or more a part of—one country’s culture over the other’s. To which country, Jamaica or the U.S., do you feel you most belong?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

I feel 100% connected to Jamaica. I was not embraced when I came to America and had difficulty adjusting. I faced culture shock and a battle to maintain my identity. As a young child, I did not have a choice in coming to America, so I kept Jamaica in the safest place that I knew—my heart. Over the years, I have developed many solid relationships with people in America, some that I couldn’t do without, but I am inherently connected to my country and my people, and no matter where I live or how long I have been gone, I am very proud to call Jamaica home.

The Morning News:

Are other members of your family involved in the arts?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

My mother is a writer and photographer, and I learned to love words through her. I also write in my spare time. My uncles were “raw” artists. They were Rasta’s, and they sculpted and drew. One of my uncles was actually my very first artistic inspiration. My youngest brother does animation and is very good at it, and my other brother was a successful actor. He is also a singer and can draw very well. I also have a cousin who is a designer. I am the only one in the family wholeheartedly pursuing the visual fine arts that I am aware of.

The Morning News:

Describe the atmosphere in your workspace.

Tamara Natalie Madden:

My workspace is the third bedroom in my home, and it’s solely dedicated to creating art. I would say that from an outsider’s perspective, it might be chaotic. It’s not chaotic to me and is a sacred space in my home. I have paints, brushes, materials, and ideas strewn about, but that works just fine for me.

The Morning News:

When you complete a painting, do you feel pride? Relief?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

I feel relief. I can’t say that I take pride in finishing art. I look at my body of work as a work in progress. There is so much to learn and so much more to accomplish. When I started painting in 2001 after suffering through major illness, I couldn’t have fathomed how far I have come, but as thankful as I am to be here, I know that I have a long way to go. I’m simply grateful when I can take an idea out of my head and manifest it to the best of my ability. I always breathe a sigh of relief.

Karolle Rabarison is at home wherever she can satisfy her coffee habit. She currently lives in Bombay. More by Karolle Rabarison