To celebrate Black History month, this week we are looking at influential black female artists. Beyond their positive impact on art history, these amazing women also helped pave the way for future, aspiring creators. This list is by no means extensive, and we highly encourage our readers to look into the fantastic works of ALL the amazing black artists of past and present.
Laura Wheeler Waring
Anna Washington Derry
1927, Oil on Canvas
Known for painted portraits of prominent and influential African Americans, Waring was a major part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. These works were her "quiet way of participating in the early Civil Rights Movement."Unfortunately, many were not properly preserved, but the ones that were can be seen on display at the Smithsonian.
Loïs Mailou Jones
1938, Oil on linen
An incredibly prolific artist, Loïs Mailou Jones created art for over 70 years of her life. She was another influential artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Her works use a common motif of depicting masks as a way for her art to find "powerful keys to infusing art with her ancestry’s spirit and meaning." Along with decades, her works also spanned a wide variety of artistic media. Throughout her life, she worked with oils, acrylics, watercolor, inks, and more.
1952, Linoleum cut
Black artists did not only stick to the medium of paint, of course. The printwork of Elizabeth Catlett is striking and beautiful. Much of her work sought to "[highlight] the struggle of black people,” and, as she put it, “to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential." She pulled not only from her experience of being black woman, but also found great inspiration from Mexican murals and was influenced by the work of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama
2018, Oil on linen
Amy Sherald is a contemporary artist and, if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the last few years, you’ve probably seen at least ONE of her portraits. She was charged with the monumental task of commemorating Michelle Obama’s time as first lady by painting her Whitehouse portrait.
Sherald depicts her subjects in an other-worldly manner by using a complete lack of hues used for the subjects' skin and contrasting it with vibrant, colorful patterns for the clothing and backgrounds. She also paints her subjects as being "assertive in gaze." All the complexities of these portraits encourages viewers to think more deeply beyond their preconceived notions of what it means to be black in America and to try to really understand what the person depicted may be thinking, or feeling as a real, human individual.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
2017, Pencil, gouache, and watercolor on wood panel
Another Contemporary Artist is the South African based Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum. Her works present clean, continuous lines and take on a surreal quality in the way that the figures, color, and texture overlap in a dreamlike manner. Her work is said to be inspired by a crossroads of ancient mythology and scientific theory. Her work aspires to examine the "development of transnational identities, human connections, and cross-border rituals."
2015, Mixed-media, collage
Our final artist is a contemporary visual artist who’s beautiful works focuses on collage and mixed media. Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan artist that uses her work to "[reflect] on sexuality, femininity, ecology, [and] politics." Her work is beautiful, yet haunting and will have you examining the details and meaning long beyond an initial glance.