Allegory of Light: The Life and Work of Tamara Natalie Madden

Tamara Natalie Madden (b. 1975-2017) was a Jamaican painter who lived and worked in America. As a teenager, she attended Rufus King International High School in Milwaukee. Afterward, she studied at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Later, she emerged as a critically-acclaimed artist and professor of art and visual culture at Spelman College. During this time, while “navigating her heavy accent in America,” Madden endured health battles with kidney disease and ovarian cancer, which eventually took her life.  After her brother donated a kidney, she found healing and beauty through her artwork as her struggles enriched the meaning of her paintings.

In her upbringing, she was surrounded by art, most notably from her Uncle Carl who copied magazines and made coverings.  Creativity ran in her family and the people she saw in Jamaica developed her gift of seeing beauty in the Black body. While many expect artists to cultivate beauty in a horrific world, they often forget that artists belong to the same world.  Madden transcended the state of the world through her infectious laugh and poignant work.  In an interview with African American Art Store, she said, “The struggle taught me about passion, and diligence, and faith. Without those things, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, and definitely not the artist I am today.” In every way, she turned negatives into positives and ashes into beauty.