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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
For more contemporary black artists, check out: