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Karmimadeebora McMillan, School of the Museum of Fine Arts

35, painting

An untitled work by McMillan.
Karmimadeebora McMillan.

A lawn ornament of a frightened black girl and two floppy black-faced rag dolls pop up in many of McMillan’s kaleidoscopic landscape paintings. “I’m taking these characters out of their Southern mentality of having to be a certain way,” says McMillan, who grew up in North Carolina. “They can be anything they want.”

The characters intimately tie childhood and play to old, entrenched, crippling messages about race, and that powerful blend can be disturbing. “People say, ‘I feel sad looking at it,’ ” McMillan says. “But I had a really good time making it. [These characters] are moving out of the phase you know into a realm where they can succeed.”


She works like a collage artist, moving colored sticks and cutouts of her figures around her paintings, creating unsettling juxtapositions of sunny tones and dark themes.

“Darkness is considered a terrible thing,” McMillan says. “I associate darkness with everything I am. Why not make it the most colorful thing you’ve ever seen?”