Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Black Artists Matter

Zanele Muholi, Phila I, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2016, source: Aperture.org.

Contemporary Art

Black Artists Matter

In the past days I have been repeatedly asking myself what I, a white art historian (gosh, how privileged that already sounds), can do to help raise awareness about the continuing racism and discrimination not only in the United States, but everywhere else. And what came to my mind is to acknowledge those overlooked black artists who may not be as famous as they deserve to be because of their skin color. Below find a very subjective list of a few of them. Spread love and kindness.

Romuald Hazoumè

Romual Hazoume, photograph
Black Artists Matter: Romuald Hazoumè, source: whitewall.art.

It is already enough to mention Romuald Hazoumè’s cultural origin to begin a story of colonialism and suppression, as he was born into the centuries-old Yoruba ethnic group, in the capital of Benin, Porto Novo. His work first gained popularity in the early Nineties, when the London Saatchi Gallery put on show his masks from upcycled materials, especially gasoline canisters, which bore witness to the European dirty practices of dumping trash in Africa.

FIAC 2019, Romual Hazoume and Cheri Samba
Black Artists Matter: Romuald Hazoumè and Chéri Samba, FIAC 2019, 2019. MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris, France.

I send back to the West that which belongs to them, that is to say, the refuse of consumer society that invades us every day.

Romual Hazoume, quote source: Caacart.com
Romual Hazoume, Bouche du Roi
Black Artists Matter: Romuald Hazoumè, Bouche du Roi, 2005. Source: October Gallery.

He made a break-through with a piece completed in 2005 for the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery (1807), entitled Bouche du Roi. The piece was named after a place in Benin from which slaves were transported to the Caribbean and the Americas. It was a reworking of the infamous 1789 ship, named Brookes, composed again from upcycled materials and masks. The British Museum purchased the work. Follow his art, which takes on the agenda of various political and economic issues troubling Benin and West Africa.

Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi, Phila I, Parktown; black artists
Black Artists Matter: Zanele Muholi, Phila I, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2016, source: Aperture.org.

I’m sure you have heard of her photographic self-portraits, which carry a magical and penetrating vibe of the old daguerreotypes. She prefers to be called a visual activist rather than visual artist, as she has dedicated herself to advocating for a black gender-nonconforming community.

My practice as a visual activist looks at black resistance—existence as well as insistence. Most of the work I have done over the years focuses exclusively on black LGBTQIA and gender-nonconforming individuals making sure we exist in the visual archive.

Zanele Muholi, Interview by Renée Mussai, Aperture.org.
Zanele Muholi, Bona, Charlottesville, Virginia; black artists
Black Artists Matter: Zanele Muholi, Bona, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2015, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.

Muholi also wants to increase the presence of black women in the media by challenging stereotypical standards of beauty, which often leave no room for people of color.

I wanted to use my face so that people will always remember just how important our black faces are, when confronted by them. (…) For this black face to be recognized as belonging to a sensible, thinking being in their own right.

Zanele Muholi, Interview by Renée Mussai, Aperture.org.

Chéri Samba

Cheri Samba, What is the future of our art
Black Artists Matter: Chéri Samba, What is the future of our art, 1997. Source: africanah.org.

I appeal to people’s consciences, artists must make people think.

Cheri Samba, quote source: African Contemporary.

Possibly it is Samba’s mission which has made him so famous. In the Eighties he began signing his works “Chéri Samba: popular artist,” yet he did not only mean popular as in famous, but popular in the sense “of the people.” He is considered a founding member of the “Popular Painting” school along with Pierre Bodo. This is because Samba’s paintings capture the social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of everyday life in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa.

Cheri Samba, I love colour; black artists
Black Artists Matter: Chéri Samba, I love colour, 2010. Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, France.

Although often portraying himself, Samba in reality tackles themes like AIDS, poverty, and corruption. In the painting above, Samba wants to explore race and self-identity and to appeal to the viewers’ conscience.

Kara Walker

Kara Walker, The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts
Black Artists Matter: Kara Walker, one of five panels from The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts, 1995, Honolulu Museum of Art.

Oh, how I love Kara Walker. I’m sure you all have seen her silhouetted figures and might not know it was her work. Her seemingly innocent or even infantile works in fact examine such complex issues such as gender, race, equality, exploitation, and violence. And their stark black-and-white form puts all viewers’ prejudices and views in perspective.

Kara Walkers, Go to hell or atlanta, whichever comes first; black artists
Black Artists Matter: Kara Walker, Go To Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First, 2015. Source: artists’ website.

Her 2015 exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London engaged with the historical narratives on colonialism and slavery in Atlanta, the southern American city where Walker spent her teenage years. In her giant cut-out, she layered the associations surrounding the Stone Mountain, a park on the outskirts of Atlanta featuring the world’s largest exposed granite monolith. Where today there is a theme park with a wild west train ride and popular laser shows, in 1915 this place was pronounced the spiritual home of the Ku Klux Klan…

Kara Walker, photograph black artists
Black Artists Matter: Kara Walker in Venice. Source: artist’s website.

For more contemporary black artists, check out:

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.


More in Contemporary Art

  • 21st century

    The Landscape Paintings of Maki Na Kamura


    My first encounter with Maki Na Kamura‘s art left me perplexed with what exactly the German-based, Japanese artist was intending to show her viewers in her paintings. Although I was confused by the subject matter of her paintings, her cosmopolitan color palette and spontaneity of her...

  • 21st century

    Paula Rego and Other Strong Women


    A couple of years ago, I wrote a very short article about Paula Rego’s fairy tale-like works. Yet, only recently I found out that we were born in the same month just a few days apart, which makes her somehow special to me. As she turned...

  • "Refuse to be the Muse!", @BarbieReports. "Refuse to be the Muse!", @BarbieReports.

    21st century

    Art Activist Barbie, When Playful Protests Indicate Gender Inequality in Art


    Art Activist Barbie has been showing up in museums and galleries for over three years, criticizing the male-dominated art world. Holding a lollipop stick, Art Activist Barbie uses small signs to ask big questions in fabulous outfits. That is actually her mantra. But who is she...

  • Javier Pérez, Carroña, 2011, Murano glass, stuffed crows, Corning Museum of Glass, New York, USA. Javier Pérez, Carroña, 2011, Murano glass, stuffed crows, Corning Museum of Glass, New York, USA.

    21st century

    Celebrating Beauty and Horror: The Sculptures of Javier Pérez


    Javier Pérez is a postwar contemporary multimedia artist. He does performance art, photography, and sculpture. His ideas move in a circular motive, reflecting on mortality, light, and darkness, metamorphosis, stability and fragility. Specifically, his sculptures are quite haunting and morbid. Beauty and horror are concepts that...

  • 21st century

    Lace on the Wall – NeSpoon’s Street Art


    NeSpoon is a street artist who combines ceramics, lace, and graffiti in her work. She travels the world and decorates old buildings or run-down street corners with her characteristic crochet-patterned murals and pottery panels. But what does NeSpoon‘s street art have to do with The Matrix?...

To Top