Featured photo: Jasmine Mallory, right, as Coretta Scott King, left (photo by Ciara Kelley)

Coretta Scott King sings into the void, the passion marking her face, eyes closed, her right hand tucked into this chest.

Her hair is styled in loose curls and bangs curled high on her forehead. Large white pearl earrings hang from her ears to match the rippling, cascading gown that she wears.

The photo, taken by Joe de Casseres, was a promotional shot for King’s Freedom Concerts, which toured across the country to raise money for King’s husband, Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Jasmine Mallory as Coretta Scott King (photo by Ciara Kelley)

In an interview with WFMT Chicago in 2018, King told reporter Stephen Raskauskas that she developed the idea of the Freedom Concerts to “narrate the story of the Civil Rights movement that [they] were involved in, and sang freedom songs in between the narrations that told the story of [their] struggle from Montgomery to Washington at that time.”

In a shot next to King’s photograph on the right, Greensboro artist Jasmine Mallory takes the same pose but in a slightly different dress. She’s styled her hair the same, her hands positioned in similar fashion. 

And like Scott before her, Mallory has used famous Black individuals’ portraits to tell the story of Black history and Black empowerment.

“I just wanted to awaken and elevate in my own consciousness,” Mallory says. “I began to learn more about Black history.”

This resulted in Mallory launching an art project in which she looked for models to recreate photographs of powerful Black figures like Scott.

In the shot of the activist and singer, Mallory depicted Scott herself but other portraits have involved people she’s close to like her husband, Clement.

In a particularly striking side-by-side shot, Clement dons half-framed glasses and a shaped beard. He looks off to the viewer’s right, gazing up and away from the lens. His face is illuminated from the left, showing the angle of his jaw, his chin. The shot is a famous one, made to mimic the portrait of Malcolm X.

Clement Mallory as Malcolm X (photo by Jasmine Mallory)

“He was my first shoot,” Mallory says. “To this day, it’s still a strong photo that I’m proud of.”

Since she started the Recreate project in 2017, Mallory has done close to 70 portraits, many of them featuring herself as the model including for poses imitating Eartha Kitt, Nina Simon, Maya Angelou and Michelle Obama. 

In 2019, Mallory started collating the images to create a yearly calendar; next year’s one is already in the works.

“Every year I may be inspired by a story from history,” Mallory explains. “This is who I think I want in the calendar and then I’ll brainstorm and think, who do I know looks like this person?

But the most difficult part isn’t finding the right person for the shoot, it’s the wardrobe, Mallory says. Especially because most of the portraits are from several decades ago. For example, with the dress she wore to emulate Coretta Scott King, Mallory found a costume made for Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

As a self-taught artist, Mallory — who formerly worked as a model — also learned to make her own costumes and little pieces for the shoots, as well as to photograph and edit the images herself.

Angela Brown as Diana Ross (photo by Jasmine Mallory)

That’s allowed her to be a kind of director of the shoots, inspiring her models to try and exude the personalities of the people they are evoking.

“I coach them through it,” she says. “I’ll try to play something that gets them in the vibe of the character like with Shaka Khan’s music or I’ll try to speak words like, “Remember, Cicely Tyson was graceful, elegant.’ I’ll throw out those adjectives to think on those lines.”

And the resulting photographs speak for themselves.

Apollo Nazir Black as Tupac Shakur wears the same effortless grin as his muse does and Angela Brown as Diana Ross carries the same sort of gravitas, holding the viewers just with her eyes.

Apollo Nazir Blak aka Nuri as Tupac Shakur (photo by Jasmine Mallory)

“We are our ancestors, that’s the other point that goes along with it,” Mallory says. “We keep being resurrected. My sister modeled Zora Neale Hurston; that face keeps coming out through time. We stand on their shoulders; they’ve cleared the path for us. We take on their physical attributes; we take on their spirit.”

Learn more about Jasmine Mallory’s work on her website at recreate.ink. Subscribe to her email or order prints and calendars online.

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