While their faces and limbs are mostly rendered in black-and-white, their clothing and other accoutrements shine with bold patterns and bright colors, a graphic combination that lands like a punch. Tonally, the works are just as aggressive, conveying in-your-face attitude with expressionistic distortions: One girl, all gangly arms and elbows, brandishes a man-size paw; another has raised fists sprouting from her head like so many angry cornrows. Nearby, lists of typical African-American female names (Shaniqua, etc.) overwritten with disparaging comments seem to provide a stinging subtext to the imagery.
Roberts’s ingenues owe a considerable debt to Romare Bearden’s collages from the mid-’60s; you might even call them homages. But whereas Bearden portrayed the frenetic street life of his present, Roberts shows us children armoring themselves against a future that refuses to understand them.