Today, many black women artists are contributing to the art history through their work. They are exploring several subjects including identity, sexuality, and politics using a variety of media and techniques. Still, they continue to be under-represented in gallery, museums, and books around the world. So, we have selected five African-American women artists whose influence on contemporary art is significant.
Art Style: Conceptual art
Media: Painting, Drawing, Filmmaking, Collage
Awards: Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, American Academy Award in Art
Ellen Gallagher is born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1965. Her work involves repetitively extracting images from magazines and newspapers to disclose issues of race and racial stereotypes. She often uses grid-like collages of magazines grouped together into larger pieces such as eXelento (2004) and DeLuxe (2005). She also uses pictographs, symbols, and codes to inject more personal observations related to race, gender, and history. She chooses controversial subjects including the vaudeville tradition of the black female minstrel to address the ways African American have been depicted throughout history.
Art Style: Fine art, Cartoon
Media: Painting, Drawing
Awards: Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, William H. Johnson Prize, ICA Artist Prize
Laylah Ali is born in Buffalo, New York, in 1968. She makes small-scale gouache paintings and drawings on paper defined by a simplicity that belies the ambiguous, and often violent, themes. Her work purposefully defies immediate interpretation, alluding rather than referring to moments of cultural and historical import. Ali’s unforgettable Greenheads (2005) series featured androgynous, cartoon-like figures who witness the prelude to, or aftermath of, a charged situation. The series, like much of Ali’s work, draws comparison to the complexity of hieroglyphics, where the viewer has to decipher meaning.
Art Style: Conceptual art, Multimedia art
Media: Collage, Painting, Printmaking
Awards: MacArthur Fellowship, Larry Aldrich Award
Kara Walker is born in Stockton, California, in 1969. She mainly explores the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality through violent and unsettling imagery. She has produced iconic cut-paper silhouette murals illustrating the history of American slavery. In Darkytown Rebellion (2000), Walker uses color lights to cast a shadow of the viewer’s body onto the walls, where it blends with the black silhouettes. With one foot in the historical realism of slavery and the other in the fantastical space of the romance novel, Walker’s nightmarish fictions simultaneously seduce and implicate the audience.
Art Style: Conceptual art, Multimedia art
Media: Painting, Sculpture, Installation, Printmaking, Collage
Awards: Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, MoCADA Artistic Advocacy Award, Timehri Award for Leadership in the Arts
Mickalene Thomas was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1971. She found herself immersed into the growing culture of self-taught artists, leading her to start her own body of work. She produced a variety of elaborate paintings composed of rhinestones, colorful acrylic and enamel. Her depictions of African American women explore a spectrum of black female beauty and sexual identity while constructing images of femininity and power. Thomas has been inspired by the work of Carrie Mae Weems, especially her Kitchen Table and Ain’t Jokin series (1994). Her production is informed by the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and the female nude.
Art Style: Multimedia art
Media: Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Collage, Installation
Awards: Fabric Workshop and Museum Residency Grant, Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant
Paula Wilson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1975. She explores perceptions of light, form, and the body in space using a wide range of techniques. She uses layers of vibrant colors and texture to create her collaged pieces. Her artwork Tomorrow's Tomorrow (2008) represents a vase of flowers lit by a stained glass window, which is constructed on a piece of paper through oil, spray paint, and collaged, inlayed woodblock prints. She also deals with the exploration of various female personas, drawing inspiration from cultural histories and identities.
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