Red Room at Five (E)
American, b. 1958
Red Room at Five (E), 1999
chromogenic color print
Plate: 11.5 x 15.3 cm (4 1/2 x 6 inches)
Mary B. Jackson Fund 2000.98E
(July 1 –September 25, 2005)(January 19 –March 25, 2001)
Renee Stout’s art draws on African beliefs and practices, African-American traditions, and personal history. She is best known for her sculpture and installations incorporating found and constructed objects that deftly intermingle real-life stories, religious or cultural beliefs, and her own fantasies. Love and longing are major themes in her work. Although Red Room at Five is atypical in medium, it is entirely typical in content.
The piece was inspired by a friend’s bedroom painted completely red and decorated with gold accents. Stout found it the perfect stage for acting out, in her words, a “short story.” In looking at the series, we construct our own narratives from her performance. The small scale of the pictures and their intense color heighten the intimacy and anticipation expressed in the scene. The room itself will likely inspire viewers to fantasize about its owner.
The series also tells the story of Erzulie. Erzulie is a group of three female Haitian Vodou spirits tied to the African Yoruba goddess of love and sweet waters, Oshun. Allusions to Erzulie abound in Stout’s work, and embossed on the portfolio cover for Red Room at Five is Erzulie’s vévé, or symbol. Stout seems to play the role of the Erzulie Freda, described by one of the earliest writers on Haitian Vodou, Maya Deren, as “the divinity of the dream, the Goddess of Love, and the muse of beauty.” Lovers repeatedly disappoint Erzulie Freda. She is sometimes associated with red dresses, which express her sensuality and sexuality. She craves perfume, candles, and things glittering and gemlike. Stout seems to adopt this character to assert her own desires and to take control of her dreams.