Every 19th June Americans celebrate the emancipation of black slaves? Despite all Northern states abolishing slavery in some way by 1805 abolition was a gradual process, and hundreds of people were still enslaved in the Northern states as late as the 1840 Census.
Due to the explosion of the cotton industry in the deep south slavery continued to be a thing right up until the Union victory in the Civil War, when slavery was made illegal in the United States in December 1865. So today is about celebrating freedom and equality. As we don't celebrate this holiday as such in the UK I decided to use the occasion to educate myself by discovering art by African Americans that really inspires me!
Let me know if any of these artists inspire you, or if you have any favourites that you would like to share
Jacob Lawrence is renowned for his narrative painting series that chronicles the experiences of African Americans, which he created during a career of more than six decades. Using geometric shapes and bold colors on flattened picture planes to express his emotions, he fleshed out the lives of Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and African Americans migrating north from the rural south during and after slavery. Lawrence was 12 in 1929 when his family settled in Harlem, New York, at a time when African American intellectual and artistic life was flourishing there. As a teen, he took classes at the Harlem Art Workshop and Harlem Community Art Center, where he studied works of art by African American artists and learned about African art and history. Lawrence went on to create images that are major expressions of the history and experience of African Americans.
Daybreak - A Time to Rest is one in a series of panel paintings that tell the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed African American woman who freed enslaved people using a fragile network of safe houses called the Underground Railroad. This abstracted image emphasizes Tubman's bravery in the face of constant danger. Lying on the hard ground beside a couple and their baby, she holds a rifle. Her face, pointing upward to the sky, occupies the near center of the canvas, her body surrounded by purple. Tubman's enormous feet, grossly out of proportion, become the focal point of the work. The lines delineating her toes and muscles look like carvings in a rock, as if to emphasize the arduous journeys she has made. Reeds in the foreground frame the prone runaways. Three insects (a walking stick, a beetle, and an ant) are signs of activity at daybreak.
Find out more -
In 1936, Douglas was commissioned to create a series of murals for the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. Installed in the elegant entrance lobby of the Hall of Negro Life, his four completed paintings charted the journey of African Americans from slavery to the present. Considered a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural phenomenon that promoted African and African American culture as a source of pride and inspiration, Douglas was an inspiring choice for the project.
The Hall of Negro Life, which opened on Juneteenth (June 19), a holiday celebrating the end of slavery, was visited by more than 400,000 fairgoers over the course of the five months that the exposition was open to the public. This commemoration of abolition, and the mural cycle in particular, served as a critical acknowledgment of African American contributions to state and federal progress.
Born in Stockton, California, in 1969, Walker moved to Atlanta, Georgia, at age 13. Her transition from an integrated town to the racially divided atmosphere of the South had a profound impact on her. She received her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, having begun her exploration of the silhouette while in school. At age 27, Walker received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award. Her first retrospective exhibition was at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2007.
Kara Walker, Roots and Links, Inc., 1997, black paper collage on prepared wove paper, Corcoran Collection
Find out more - https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.22263.html
Jamilla Okubo is an interdisciplinary artist exploring the intricacies of belonging to an American, Kenyan, and Trinidadian identity. Combining figurative painting, pattern/textile design, fashion, and storytelling, she celebrates the Black body in relation to movement, expression, ideology, and culture. Inspired by kanga cloth, which communicate messages derived from Swahili proverbs, quotes from the Qur’an, African folklore and popular culture, Okubo creates her own patterns in reference to the history, mythology, and vernacular of the African diaspora. She prints these original patterns on paper as collage material for her paintings or on fabric for fashion and performance-based work. The gestural strength of her imagery and symbolism is a platform for restoring agency and reclaiming the oppositional gaze. Style, embraced for sociopolitical impact, woven with ancestral and contemporary wisdom invites the viewer to reflect on old and new mythologies, alternative realities, and self-love.
Jamilla (b. Clinton, NC) is based in Washington, D.C. She holds a BFA in Integrated Design from Parsons the New School of Design. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, in venues such as The Torpedo Factory (VA), Social & Public Art Resource Gallery (CA), Milk Gallery (NY), Weeksville Heritage Center (NY), Super Wonder Gallery (Toronto) and the Dray Walk Gallery (London). She has created art installations for Culture Corp x Hudson Yards (NY), and the Line Hotel (DC). In addition, her work has been reproduced for publications and purchased for private collections. Notable publications of her work have appeared in O, Oprah Magazine and the covers of An American Marriage, Tayari Jones (Oneworld Publishing House) and Den Omättliga Vägen, Ben Okri (Modernista Group AB). She has collaborated with XDevoe, Gorman, and Christian Dior. Currently, she is represented by Mehari Sequar Gallery (DC).
Born in 1940 Carolyn is a visual artist and teacher. As a member of the art collective, AfriCOBRA, she sought to define a Black aesthetic and to uplift and celebrate African American culture and community by creating positive, empowering images of Black life. Her paintings Uphold Your Men (1971) and Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free (1972) were included in the exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. The exhibit was described as "a superlative work of curatorial scholarship. Thoughtful, thought-provoking, and lovingly curated, it creates space for some often under-represented artists and movements within both their artistic and political contexts, and highlights the ways in which these frames intersect."
Mid-1960s Chicago saw a rise in racial violence leading to the examination of race relations and black empowerment by local artists. Jarrell became involved in the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), a group that would serve as a launching pad for the era's black art movement. In 1967, OBAC artists created the Wall of Respect, a mural in Chicago that depicted African American heroes and is credited with triggering the political mural movement in Chicago and beyond. In 1969, Jarrell co-founded AFRICOBRA: African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. AFRICOBRA would become internationally acclaimed for their politically themed art and use of "coolade colors" in their paintings.
Jarrell's career took him to Africa in 1977, where he found inspiration in the Senufo people of Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso. Upon return to the United States he moved to Georgia and taught at the University of Georgia. In Georgia, he began to use a bricklayer's trowel on his canvases, creating a textured appearance within his already visually active paintings. The figures often seen in his paintings are abstract and inspired by the masks and sculptures of Nigeria. These Nigerian arts have also inspired Jarrell's totem sculptures. Living and working in Cleveland, Jarrell continues to explore the contemporary African American experience through his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His work is found in the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, High Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem and the University of Delaware.
source : wikipedia
I will be definitely taking some inspiration from these artists into some new work which hopefully(?) will be included in my next exhibition at Bear Steps Gallery in September (2020)...watch this space!