• Archie Gibbs

Spotlight on Contemporary Black Artists: Painting and Drawing

The all-white all-star, white walled, white funded and white owned Art world is sweating. Museums are scrambling. Collectors should be shivering. Enough has got to be enough for grossly inequitable, disproportional curatorial, collection, hiring and educational practices.

Black Artists are by and large less exhibited, collected and represented by galleries and museums throughout the US and Europe. Their lack of visibility is a pedagogical issue. Young curators need to pay attention and take heed to cultural shifts. Laziness and apathy towards issues of race in such institutions is no longer feasible and they mustn’t get away with crowd pleasing White Male Artist-dominated shows with the obligatory ‘spicing up’ by thrusting a Frida Kahlo once in a while filling a diversity quota. Museums are not neutral. They do not simply hold a mirror up to society. They are active. They choose what they represent, exhibit and collect. They choose who they represent, exhibit and collect.

However this is not just an art world professionals issue – far from it. Which galleries do you support with your exhibition ticket purchases? Which artists do you look out for when new shows are announced? Can you name 5 Black Artists? How about Black Artists who do not make work about subjectivity and specific racial issues? There is always time to broaden your artistic playbook and bank of ‘favourites’.

Black Art History is Art History, there is no bifurcation.

I want to write about and actively support contemporary Black Artists working today. Just because you may not see them in your favourite conservative museum’s collection does not mean they do not warrant your attention.

Starting with Contemporary Painting and Drawing, I’ll examine and explore a series of Black Artists through the scope of various mediums – piecing together a very preliminary and introductory look at Black Artists whom I personally enjoy and want to share with you.

Toyin Ojih Odutola

I came across Ojih Odutola’s work after a listening to one of my favourite podcasts Talk Art over the weekend and her drawings blew me away. They tell story and history of dense complexity. They abstract dangerous ‘single story’ narratives of identity based experience purported in popular culture (see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk for More). Identity is a fragile thing and it is not easily reconstructed or navigated. Ojih Odutola’s personal work set out to “create an embodiment of what Blackness felt like to me”. Her work is esoteric in medium; the utilisation of the ballpoint pen allowed her to “make (her work) a typography … a landscape” for non-Black audience to gain insight, traverse the plains of and enter a space of attempting to understand Black experience instead of the outside-in peeping at it through the looking glass at arms-length. Her work juts the critical simplification Black Art, Black bodies, Black stories and Black people. She forces you to think about the complexity of skin, the semiotics of Blackness and temptation of categorisation.

Toyin Ojih Odutola has an upcoming show at the Barbican Centre (London) upon it’s reopening post-COVID. Admission is free.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Pregnant, 2017. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Proposal, 2017. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby explores layered identity and culture in diasporic peoples and herself. She discusses “inhabiting multiple spaces” in her work, coalescing inherited traditions and newly encountered cultural material and experiences to create a rich myriad of the uncategorizable which make up individuals. The paintings incorporate various materials such as newspaper clippings and photographs which impacted and influence her life and work while equally acknowledging the shared experiences with other in similarly fragmented and colliding milieus. This work preserves, explores and transforms traditions while celebrating union between cultures.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is showing at SFMOMA following the reopening post-COVID. Find out more on their website: https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/njideka_akunyili_crosby/

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Mother and Child, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Yiadom-Boakye figurative works are fictitious composites of imaginatory and scrapbooking enterprise that explores the specific goals between colour, form and light. The figures aren’t contextualised in spatial surroundings or personal representation – instead they offer a particular “sense of a narrative”. The unknown in her work evokes many thoughts and feelings and have great efficacy in conveying mood and perspective through the posture, lighting and expression of the figures.

Yiadom-Boakye is showing at Tate Britain (London) following it’s reopening post-COVID. Admission is £13 for Adults.

Lynette Yiadom-Bokaye, No Need of Speech, 2018. Courtesy of the Artist

Amoako Boafo

Boafo is an upcoming artist whose recent auction sales and Instagram presence have made waves cementing him in global contemporary art. His figurative pieces question hypermasculinity and the expectations and assumptions put onto the Black body in visual mainstream culture. They are intimate, emotive and introspective. His textural, tactile approach to mark making conjures thought of fellow Vienna based artist, Egon Schiele. Though the fair comparison has been made a lot, his work goes beyond this and explores contemporary themes of Blackness (i.e. his celebrated series Black Diaspora (2018-)). His subjects are thoughtful, delicate yet purposeful.

Explore Amoako Boafo’s work on the artist’s website: https://amoako-boafo.com/SERIES

Amoako Boafo, Hudson in a Baby Blue Suit, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist.
Amoako Boafo, Bella Sontez, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist

Odili Donald Odita

Odita is a widely championed Philadelphia based artist paints in a large scale, bright, colourful and attention grabbing. His work, unlike the other artists mentioned, does not centre the Black body. Black Artists are not obliged to ‘represent’ Black identity or experience – that is a vapid, inane myth and total misconception. His colour field paintings are geometric constellations which render incredibly striking optical effect when affronted in person. His work is “structured conceptually and emotionally” through the sensation of music projected through colour. It is a poetic, metaphorical practice of the human condition. The colour choice, grouping, proportion, hue are all intentional and evocative of a particular space, note and emphasis.

Odili Donald Odita’s work is found in collections across the US and is currently on show at the ICA Miami.

Odili Donald Odita, Chasm, 2015. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery



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