Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Untitled (The Hand)

A red and blue rooster eats from a plant tended to by a humanlike figure wearing a purple dress and red boots. Above, a plant hangs from a branch that extends from the arm of a Black human-tree hybrid. Other plants and figures fill the space.

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Object Details


Nellie Mae Rowe, American, 1900–1982




Crayon and pencil on paper


18 x 24 inches


Gift of Harvie and Charles Abney

Accession #


Image Copyright

© Estate of Nellie Mae Rowe/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


There is a popular belief in some African American communities that dreams of fish precede announcements of pregnancy. The animal’s additional religious connotations of abundance and creation suggest that Rowe’s numerous drawings of fish may have been related to her unfulfilled wish for children. In Untitled (Fish), a large fish is surrounded by flowers budding with breast-like shapes and birds that have a penile appearance. Similarly erotic forms can be found in Untitled (The Hand), along with a rooster, painted a shocking crimson and royal blue, that might also have a coded sexual meaning.