Painting Histories, Painting Futures

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Painting Histories, Painting Futures ​is a biographical anthology of fifteen Black women artists who visualize revolutionary narratives through the lens of Black history, modern political identity, and Black futurity. These women are drawing from radically different influences and mediums, with vastly different goals and career trajectories, but interconnected in their contributions of Black subjectivity in the art institution. This book​ ​was created as an accompaniment to my undergraduate thesis paper, ​Black Lives and Longevity in the Art Museum. ​This thesis explores the reciprocal relationship between the dominant sociopolitical climate and mainstream art world programming in the 1960s and 70s, the 1990s, and the 2010s. It focuses on these decades as pivotal moments for Black fine art’s existence in the museum space as a contentious, revolutionary presence. More specifically, on the museum institution’s interaction with Black art into scheduled exhibitions and collections, and the work that Black artists and activists did with, as, and against museum administrators. This essay analyzes the cross-generational parallel between pro-Black social movements and museums’ piqued interest in Black art and culture during these cultural moments and the continuing ephemerality and insecurity of these movements. This thesis was created for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University as a non-monetized academic project.


DIRECTORY: ALMA THOMAS​…………………………………...……………………….………..3,4

GWENDOLYN KNIGHT​…………………………………...……………………….5,6 ELIZABETH CATLETT​…………………………………...……………………….7,8

BETYE SAAR​…………………………………...…………………………….…....9,10 FAITH RINGGOLD​…………………………………...………………………....11,12

LORRAINE O’GRADY​…………………………………...……………………....13,14 EMMA AMOS​…………………………………...…………………………….…..15,16

SENGA NENGUDI​…………………………………...…………………………..17,18 HOWARDENA PINDELL​…………………………………...…………………..19,20 ADRIAN PIPER​…………………………………...……………………………...21,22

CARRIE MAE WEEMS​…………………………………...……………………..23,24 LORNA SIMPSON​…………………………………...…………………………..25,26

KARA WALKER​…………………………………...……………………………...27,28

MICKALENE THOMAS​…………………………………...…………………….29,30 TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA… ​ ………………………………...…………………...31,32 BIBLIOGRAPHY… ​ ………………………………...………………………….…33-37

ABOUT THE AUTHOR​…………………………………...………………………...38



technological innovation at NASA in the 1960s. Her short, ​impasto brushstrokes formed larger shapes, creating circular and vertical compositions, drawn from natural and scientific wonders, like natural light and the Apollo moon missions and takeoff. The paintings were perfectly meticulous, yet carefree in their bright and airy compositions. She drew artistic inspiration from European painters includ- ing Henri Matisse, Josef Albers, and Wassily Kandinsky, transforming aspects of impressionistic, colorful works into her own.​4 Thomas was “deeply invested in a project of beauty.”​5 Rather than focus her artwork on explicitly defining racial difficulties, she formulated abstracted mo- ments of remarkable beauty, drawing influences from the intimate, precious moments surrounding her. It was a brave stance for Thomas to assert herself as an abstract artist when the majority of po​pular Black art at the time focused on figuration and the rep- resentation of Black life in a racially tumul-

Alma Thomas grew up in Columbus, Georgia. Fleeing rampant and violent racism in Georgia, her family relocated to Washington D.C. in 1907, where she spent the remainder of her life as a teacher and markedly innovative artist.​1 Thomas grew up in a family of teachers who, despite aggressive segregation and racism in educational spaces and libraries, organi- zed in-home lectures that exposed her to academics and intellectuals, including Booker T. Washington, throughout her childhood.​2 In 1924, she became the first graduate of Howard University’s art department, going on to teach art in a segregated junior high school in Washington, D.C. for 35 years and simultaneously working on her own paintings. In 1960, she retired from teaching to pursue painting full time late in life—and found success.​3 Wash- ington D.C.’s art scene was dominated by white men, and Thomas was left to forge her own path within its artistic community. Her earlier works were traditionally figurative—as was common among Black artists of the time—but in the 1950s, her paintings took a turn toward abstraction, influenced by her professors at American University (where she took night and weekend classes for ten years).​3 Thomas claims she was never content as a figurative painter; she found her comfort in abstract representation. Her polychromatic canvases drew infl- uence from nature, the newly emerging media of color television, and the rapid

Alma Thomas Apollo 12 "Splash Down",​ 1970 Acrylic and graphite on canvas


Alma Thomas Snoopy Sees Earth Wrapped in Sunset​, 1970 Acrylic on canvas

tuous era. Her resolution to paint abstractions, rather than immediate depictions of the Black American experience, was in itself a political and revolutionary action. Beginning her professional painting career later in life proved troublesome for Thomas. Her chronic arthritis made her painting difficult, but she pursued the canvas regardless.​6 As she matured, her color palette became more muted, and she explored composition, straying away from her signature vertical and horizontal placements, forming diamonds, diago- nals, and more asymmetrical shapes. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to receive a solitary retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, at the age of 80​1​. Impasto - “Paint that stands up from

Alma Thomas Cherry Blossom Symphony,​ 1973 Acrylic on canvas

“Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”​3 —Alma Thomas

the surface it has been applied to, due

Alma Thomas Stars and Their Display​, 1972 Acrylic on canvas

either to the method of its application or to the sheer quantity of paint used.”​ 7


Under Savage’s suggestion, Knight began working at the Harlem Community Arts Center, where she became intimately acquainted with acclaimed writers Lang- ston Hughes and Ralph Ellison, as well as deeply influential Black artists of the day, like Romare Bearden and Charles Alston.​1 In 1941, she married artist Jacob Lawrence, who she met through this tight-knit community of Harlem artists.​4 Lawrence is institutionally renowned for his ​Migration Series, dynamic paintings of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and western part of the United States.​5 Knight was an invaluable collaborator in his artistic process, helping Lawrence map out compositions, and serving as a crucial voice of criticism and support, and he did the same for her. The couple moved around the United States, and inter- nationally, throughout their careers. Knight found herself enchanted with the “sultriness,” of the American South, and spoke of a visceral spiritual and cultural connection with the African diaspora while living in Nigeria.​4

At seven years old, Gwendolyn Knight immigrated to the United States from Barbados. Her mother sent her to Saint Louis, Missouri to live with close family friends, but at age thirteen they relocated to New York, a vital experience for her artistic coming-of-age. Living in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Brooks was constantly surrounded by Black academic and artistic production. She attended an integrated high school in the neighborhood and continued her studies at Howard University. Unable to complete her degree under the harsh financial reality of the Great Depression, she left the university in 1933. Though short-lived, her time at Howard proved fruitful in certain aspects—while there, she studied with acclaimed painter Loïs Mailou Jones, whose figurative, Afro- centric style had a great impact on Knight’s later paintings and silkscreen prints.​1 Knight returned to Harlem, where she found a creative home among renowned artists. There, she studied under Augusta Savage, a prominent Black sculptor and educator.​2 Savage guided Knight with her technical skill, and further encouraged Knight to feature Black American exper- iences in her work. Knight credits Savage’s guidance as inspirational largely because her status as a Black woman artist gave Knight hope for the possibility of her own success. She says women artists were scarcely given the same attention or opportunity as their male counterparts.​3

Gwendolyn Knight New Orleans,​ 2002 Silkscreen


Gwendolyn Knight Diva,​ 1994 Silkscreen

Gwendolyn Knight The White Dress,​ 1999 Silkscreen

As the mainstream, mainly-white art world of the 1940s and ’50s swayed toward abstract expressionism, Black art of the decade took its own course in developing a unique style, usually depict- ing Black folks and the Black American experience. Knight’s work, in this vein, tended toward figuration, a common practice for African American artists of this generation. She focused on personal, intimate moments of Black womanhood and ​Afrodiasporic landscape through the use of vibrant color and flowing gesture. Her compositions were influenced by West African sculpture and dance, two passions and great inspirations in her artistic trajectory.​6 She taught and studied dance throughout her life, with this passion directly impressing itself upon her spontaneous, gestural brushstrokes and composition, imbuing movement through- out the pieces.

In 2000, she and her husband established the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, initially serv- ing to support emerging artists, and later becoming dedicated to aiding children’s advocacy programs.​2 “Dance is the way I draw, the way I work. I am interested in gesture.”​7 —​Gwendolyn Knight

Afrodiasporic - regarding “the move- ment, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland” as it pertains to the African continent.​8


Catlett created prints of expressive figures, illustrating narrative visuals of the personal lives of those affected by segregation and Jim Crow. Focusing on race and feminism in the United States, she featured Black laborers, mothers, and activist figures, with her best-known works depicting Black women as maternal presences. Her theme of a reimagined Madonna and child, featuring Black womanhood and Black maternity, is prominent in her prints. Her etchings are influenced by

The granddaughter of freed slaves, Elizabeth Catlett was a groundbreaking figure of Black art in the 20th Century.​1 After being awarded a scholarship to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology, her offer was rescinded when they realized her race.​2 She instead

primitivism and ​cubism​.1​ Catlett was a skilled printmaker, but also a talented sculptor, and she created work featuring iconic civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., and Phyllis Wheatley in both mediums.​2,3 She made bold and stylistic prints of working-class Black folks, highlighting economic racism in the post-Jim Crow era using intricate detail and high contrast.

attended Howard University and then became the first Black woman to receive a Master of Fine Arts ​degree from the University of Iowa.​1 During her studies in Iowa, she was taught and mentored by the renowned ​American Gothic painter Grant Wood, who encouraged her to focus her artwork on “what she knew best.”​2 She soon shifted her artistic focus toward womanhood, international activist movements, and Black identity and liberation.

“I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful.”​11 — ​Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlettt The Sharecropper,​ 1970 Linocut

Elizabeth Catlettt Danys Y Liethes, ​2005 Lithograph


Elizabeth Catlettt Madonna,​ 1982 Lithograph

Elizabeth Catlettt Madonna II,​ 1999 Screenprint

As she spent her life in both the United States and Mexico, her work was heavily influenced by multiple, diverse schools of thought, politically and artistically. She traveled to Mexico, where she worked at the famous workshop Taller de Gráfica Popular, which was a hub of muralism and graphic printmaking.​2 The workshop itself was tied to communism, though Catlett never directly aligned herself with the political movement.​4 She was monitored by the United States Emb-

assy for this relationship, and eventually arrested at a strike in Mexico City for railroad workers’ rights. The United States labeled her an “undesirable alien,” and she renounced her United States citizen- ship.​4 She taught at the National School of Fine Arts in Mexico City between 1958 and 1976 as their first female professor of sculpture, and she eventually became head of the sculpture department.​4

Primitivism - "Modern art that alludes to

Cubism ​- ”The Cubist style emphasized the

specific stylistic elements of tribal objects and other non-Western art forms.”​5 ​The genre is often accused of stealing or appropriating non-Western cultural aesthetics without proper accreditation.

flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro, and refuting time-honoured theories that art should imitate nature.”​6 8

the personal and political implications of Black womanhood. Saar is known for her multimedia, dimensional collages and found object altars. A Los Angeleno, Saar was cont- inually influenced by the artistic comm- unity of Watts, a neighborhood known for its racial rebellion in 1965. The death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 actively politicized Saar’s work and its intentions.​2 Because she was a valued member of feminist artist spaces and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960 and 1970s, her found object sculptures are steeped in political, racial, religious, and gendered concerns. Her works thematically explore the “magical, the personal and the polit- ical.”​5 She explores mysticism, astrology, and magical religious practices of the Afrodiaspora, formulating what she refers to as an “occult atmosphere,” translated not only in these mystical iconographs but in the haunting racial histories of her appropriated objects from Jim Crow.​2 Saar identifies herself as a conjurer and recycler.​5 She worked with found objects, reappropriating racialized, racist objects and injecting power into them with radical symbols. She invigorates the stereotypical, historically racist figure of the mammy, a trope connoted with servility and domest- icity, operating as a stand-in mother for

Betye Saar was born, raised, and began her artistic career in Los Angeles. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1949, and continued her graduate studies at California State University at Long Beach, the University of Southern California, and California State University at Northridge.​1 Before beginning her fine art practice, Saar first studied design, eventually find- ing her artistic home in ​assemblage ​art after a visit to the Pasadena Museum around the age of 40. There, Saar encountered the assemblage creations of artist Joseph Cornell: small, box-like structures encapsulating found objects like maps, text, paper birds, and more, to create fantastical scenes.​2 She saw the spot-lit works as “illuminated jewels” and felt immediately inspired to formulate her own object collections for creation.​3 Saar appropriated objects and images, and like Cornell, set up her own scenes in window and picture frames. Assemblage gave her the opportunity to craft worlds illustrating


mulatto and white children of white slave owners. Saar equips these figures with weaponry as a means of self-defense and rebellion against the sociopolitical para- meters shackling the mammy to servitude under white supremacy. She is most known for her assemblages involving Aunt Jemima, a mammy figure still in popular circulation in the 21st Century through a maple syrup brand, whose racist roots are often overlooked. Her most famous, and first portrait of the iconic figure is her 1972 assemblage, T ​ he Liberation of Aunt Jemima. ​This would be the piece that would propel her career infinitely forward. By 1975 she had received a solo show at the renowned Whitney Museum of Amer- ican Art.​2 In the piece, Aunt Jemima brandishes a broom, a marker of domesticity in her left hand, and a rifle in her right. Beneath her bosom, Saar has nestled an image of a similarly jubilant mammy figure, cradling a pale child in her arms, overlaid by a sculp- ted, starkly black, Black power fist, with one nail manicured blood red. The culturally significant and recognizable visual of Aunt Jemima ads line the window box, and cotton, a symbol of slavery and its gains, lines the wooden frame. The mammies’ painted-on smiles juxtapose their fierce, revolutionary symbology within the piece as radical women ready and able to overthrow their overseers and challenge their marginalized positions. In 2007, activist and scholar Angela Davis referred to ​The Liberation of Aunt Jemima as the inception of the Black women’s movement.​7

Betye Saar The Long Memory​, 1998 18 Color Screenprint on Somerset Paper

“It’s like they abolished slavery but they kept Black people in the kitchen as mammy jars. I had this Aunt Jemima, and I wanted to put a rifle and a grenade under her skirts. I wanted to empower her. I wanted to make her a warrior. I wanted people to know that Black people wouldn’t be enslaved by that.”​4 —Betye Saar

Assemblage - ​“[A]rt that is made by

everyday objects – scavenged by the

Betye Saar The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, ​1972 Assemblage

assembling disparate elements – often artist or bought specially.”​8 10

Faith Ringgold was born in Harlem, New York City after the Harlem Renaiss- ance. She received a B.S. in Fine Art and Education from the City College of New York, and received an M.A. from City College in 1959.​1 ​Ringgold began her series, ​American People​, in 1963. The introduction of these paintings was a seminal moment in her artistic career, introducing her artwork to a more main- stream art world.​2 The paintings feature scenes of the racial climate of the Civil Rights era, narrating race in America dur- ing a fiercely and openly political time. Within the series, she paints gruesome, bloody depictions of racial violence in the style of folk art. She incorporated racial slurs into the canvases, a shocking and biting criticism of the reality of persisting anti-Black American racial relations in the 1960s.​3 During her career, she made work featuring icons of Black culture, including activist and scholar Angela Davis, as well as basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, and she made art in support of the Black Panther Party.​2 In the 1970s, she began experimenting with political posters and masks inf- luenced by African culture and aesthetics.​2 She was actively concerned with the institutional diversification of the New York art world.​2 During this decade, inspired by Tibetan ​thangka paintings on fabric, her work began radically evolving.​1 Also insp- ired by her mother, who was a fashion designer, Ringgold worked with fabric and texture as an aesthetic form.​2

She began to weave narrative and storytelling through the image—depicting an under- represented history of Black life in the form of quilts. These iconic quilts became her most famous and acclaimed artworks. She created her first quilt in 1980, and her most famous quilt, Tar Beach​, in 1988.​4 Ringgold’s work utilizes the material of “feminine” or domestic art through thread, reclaiming its possibility as a fine art medium. Her art’s regeneration of the supposedly domestic realm as a decidedly artistic form follows in the footsteps of famous Black women artists who utilized sewing-as-storytelling, including the quilt- makers of Gee’s Bend and Harriet Powers.

“I became a feminist because I wanted to help my daughters, other women, and myself aspire to something more than a place behind a good man. In the 1970s, being Black and a feminist was equivalent to being a traitor to the cause of Black people. ‘You seek to divide us,’ I was told. ‘Women’s Lib is for white women. The Black woman is too strong now—she’s already liberated.’”​5

—​Faith Ringgold

Quiltmaking-as-medium holds its roots in American chattel slavery, reclaiming and reconstituting the medium to tell stories of modern Blackness. The scene of ​Tar Beach shows a Black family spread out on their rooftop on a hot summer, late at night. It explores themes of family and community, as well as a classed identity. She went on to write an acclaimed children’s book of the same name in 1991.​6 As a visual artist and children’s book author and illustrator, she uses both literary and visual narrative to


Tar Beach​, 1988 Acrylic on canvas, bordered with printed, painted, quilted, and pieced cloth

affirm stories of Black identity and existence. Ringgold’s work was politically radical and community-focused, stressing the impact that art could have. She once said, “I asked myself, do you want your work to be somewhere where nobody wants it or do you want it to be somewhere it is needed?”​7 This ideology drew her to create a mural in a women’s prison, the Correctional Institution for Women on Rikers Island, formerly called the Women’s House of Detention.​8 The mural was a criticism of society’s inherent complacency in the imprisonment of these women. The prison itself was a site for political activ- ism—at the time, it housed pro-Black activist and academic Angela Davis.​8 Ringgold held interviews with the women to find out what they wanted to see on these walls, ultimately deciding upon an image of hope, of multiracial women standing in solidarity, representing “freed- om, justice, [and] equality.”​8 The same year of its commission, the prison closed and eventually became a men’s prison, where its presence was unfavored and it was eventually removed.

Faith Ringgold American People Series #9: The American Dream​, 1964 Oil on canvas

Faith Ringgold


Ringgold taught art at the University of California, San Diego, between 1987 and 2002.​1 She has received a Guggenheim fellowship for her painting, an NAACP Image Award, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.​1 As a social activist, she has used art to start and grow such organizations as “Where We At” that support African American women artists.​1 Her foundation “Anyone Can Fly” is devoted to expanding the art canon to include artists of the African diaspora and to introduce the African American masters to children and adult audiences.​2

Lorraine O’Grady is an essayist and visual and performance artist. She grew up in Boston in a well-off, Episcopalian Christian home to Jamaican immigrant parents.​1 She studied Spanish literature at Wellesley College, graduating in 1955, and proceeded to work as a translator, agent for the United States government, and as a rock music critic before settling into her role as a political artist and essayist.​2 Her religious, Caribbean upbringing had a great impact on her visual sensib- ilities, manifesting in her artwork. Her parents were Episcopalian Jamaican immi- grants, and O’Grady says that the elegant aesthetics of the religion deeply infl- uenced her artistic practice.​1 She creates work in direct response to the ​misogynoir of the art world, utilizing a language familiar to the art world to critique it in her high-brow conceptual performance. Her writing and visual art navigate Blackness, gender, and class. She explores these subjects through the mediums of perfor- mance, photography, and photomontage. Her sister’s death denotes a stark end to her religious beliefs. Their relationship is another prominent theme in her body of work.​1 O’Grady reflects on sisterhood in her series M ​ iscegenated Family Album (1980)​. ​This series was influenced by her time spent in Egypt, where she recognized her immediate, deep resem- blance to the Egyptian people she encountered, which she said actualized and validated her lifelong longing toward

Lorraine O’Grady Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Goes to the New Museum​, 1981. Silver gelatin print, performance.

Egyptian royalty and culture.​1 In Miscegenated Family Album​, she refer- ences her imagined connections between her own family and Egyptian royalty with side-by-side photographic comparisons. Her most famous work of art came in the form of a disruptive performance. As Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, a fictional, sed- uctive beauty queen, O’Grady intruded upon art world parties wearing a gown crafted from 180 pairs of white gloves and a whip of white chrysanthemums.​3 Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, or “Miss Black Middle- Class,” made her debut by invading a gallery opening at Just Above Midtown, an art space founded in 1974 by Linda Goode Bryant to showcase avante-garde work by Black artists in the heart of the era’s white gallery world.​4 O’Grady paraded around the gallery, lashing herself with her “whip-that-made- plantations-move,” recalling slavery and 13

its relationship to modern racial and class identities.​5 The work called out the exclusion of Black artists from the art world, and the limitations this presented Black artists with. O’Grady was influenced by Futurist artists’ belief that art has a universally transformative power to chan- ge the world.​3 ​Fully costumed, O’Grady hollered poems of resistance, in protest against the art world’s exclusion of Black artists, and in protest of Black artists who conformed their art and ideologies for acceptance by the mainstream art world, which intended to service white artists and audiences.​3 She ended this poem with a rallying cry to her fellow marginalized artists: “Now is the time for an invasion!”​5 She continued this performance in other art spaces, intervening at the New Museum’s exhibition, P ​ ersona​, which feat- ured nine artists who worked with alter egos. All of the participating artists were white. Mlle Bourgeoise Noire was, by this time, a well-known performance, and had even gained O’Grady an offer to teach youth at the New Museum. Later, the offer was rescinded.​5 Her performances were generally disruptive and interactive in nature. In the 1983 African American Day Parade in Harlem, O’Grady paraded across 125th Street on an enormous float, decorated as

a golden picture frame, accompanied by 15 dancers clad in all white, carrying their own, smaller frames.​13 The dancers inter- acted with an excitable crowd, who had no idea they were performing themselves in O’Grady’s piece, ​Art Is… (1983). O’Grady was inserting Black culture and Black people into art, affirming their status as legitimate makers and consumers of the arts.​1 O’Grady is combining Black life & Black “high art,” degrading the impenetrable fence around the art world that excludes Black people and/or poor people. She was a mainstay in New York’s 1970s feminist art movement, and is well known and well-respected for her feminist writings. Her essay, “Olympia’s Maid,” discusses the Black woman’s presence in the art historical canon, and has become a staple in Women’s Studies curriculums.​5

Misogynoir ​- “[A] term queer Black feminist




University professor Moya Bailey invented in 2010 to describe the specific way racism and misogyny combine to oppress Black women.”​6

Lorraine O’Grady Art Is….​ 1983/2009. Chromogenic color print, performance.

Lorraine O’Grady Miscegenated Family Album​,1980/1994. Cibachrome prints.


Emma Amos was born to college- educated parents, whose fathers were former slaves. The artist was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where she began paint- ing and drawing at six years old. Atlanta provided a space for Black art, business, academics, and politics, in which Amos thrived. She attended segregated public schools until graduating at sixteen years old, when she moved on to Antioch University in Ohio to complete a five-year undergraduate program. She studied printmaking, painting, and weaving at London Central School of Art during her fourth year of university and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958. She went on to receive her Master of Arts degree at New York University in 1966.​1 Amos is a teacher, curator, writer, and activist. She worked as a teaching assistant while living in New York at the Dalton School, and went on to work for Dorothy Liebes, a textile designer and weaver. This intimate experience with text- ile deeply influenced her later artwork, and she cites this time as deeply influen- tial on her works’ fabricated borders.


She expressively paints scenes of Black womanhood, complemented by poly- chromatic, exuberant color palettes and African-influenced pattern and texture. Her professional training in textile inf- luences this stylistic endeavor, building setting in the fantastical combination of simultaneously discordant and harmon- ious patterns. The insertion of these Afrocentric fabrics engaged “modernist myths about exoticism and women.”​2 Her Afrocentric figures transcend humanity, crossing into a mythic realm of the divine feminine. Their multi-textured worlds are fantastical and otherworldly, creating visual epics about the Black female body. Amos’s figurative work focuses on the Black body, specifically the possibilities of autonomous Black female sexuality and subjectivity. She challenges the rules of naturalism by subverting depth and undermining the distinction between foreground and background. Her abstract- ed figuration is in dialogue with canonical masters like Pablo Picasso, injected with her own personal interests in feminism and Afrocentrism. In the 1960s, Amos joined Spiral, an alliance of fourteen Black artists based in New York. She was the collective’s sole female member, and its youngest.​1 She exhibited work with the group in their first and only show before it quickly dissolved.​2

In its aftermath, Amos questioned the group’s monoracial demographic.​2 After her time spent in Spiral, dominated by masculinity, she joined Heresies, a feminist art group, and worked with M/E/A/N/I/N/G​, a publication dedicated to feminist art, writing, theory, and criticism.​3 She is a rumored member of the Guerilla Girls, a feminist organization that anonymously but publicly exposes misogyny and racism in art institutions.​4 Teaching was a significant portion of Amos’s artistic practice and identity. She taught weaving in New York City and at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art.​1 She co-hosted ​Show and Hands in 1977 and ‘78, an educational television series that delved into “the intersection of traditional crafts and art.”​3 In 1980, she became a professor, and later a chair at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. In 1994, she became the chair of the board of governors at the acclaimed Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.​3

Emma Amos Out in Front​, 1982 Handwoven fabric on linen

Emma Amos Look at the Sun​, 2014 African fabric and acrylic on canvas

Emma Amos Memory​, 2012 Acrylic and fabric on linen


Senga Nengudi was born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California. She majored in art and minored in dance at California State University, Los Angeles (UCLA), receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966. The following year, she studied Japanese culture abroad in Tokyo at Waseda University before returning to UCLA to complete her mast- ers in sculpture in 1971.​2 Nengudi was deeply entrenched in the New York and Los Angeles Black avante-garde artist scenes in the 1970s and 80s, when she began her career. Her work draws from her influences in dance, Japanese culture, feminist theory, and religious ritual. Nengudi primarily works in installation, performance, and sculpture. Her artwork is conceptual in its focus on the sensory, creating forms intended to be touched, worn, and acted upon, inviting the viewer into a tactile experience with the art object. One of her earliest works, which remains one of her most well-known, is her ​R.S.V.P. series. The sculptural series had its inauguration in 1977 at Just Above Midtown, a gallery dedicated to avante- garde artists of color.​3 The sculptures themselves are shaped from pantyhose intended for women of color​—​darker, brown-toned tights filled with sand to give amorphous, almost-human shape, and stretched into fantastic shapes across the gallery walls.​3 She is racializing exper- iences of womanhood.

Senga Nengudi Studio Performance with R.S.V.P​, 1977 Silver Gelatin Print

Senga Nengudi Performance Piece​, 1978 Silver Gelatin Print

Senga Nengudi Performance Piece​, 1978 Silver Gelatin Print


R.S.V.P. was born of Nengudi’s inquisition into Black female resiliency, after her own experience with pregnancy, upon which she realized the elasticity and endurance of the child-bearing body and mind.​4 The pantyhose she utilizes have been worn by friends and strangers, var- ious Black women whose experiences speak directly to the flexibility and fort- itude she focuses on in these sculptures. She says she found sand to be the ideal “stuffing” for these forms, as it most closely mimics the shape and feel of the human body.​4 It is easily molded within the nylons, much like distortions of the body through childbirth, maturity, elective surgery, and other experiences of women’s lived reality. She focuses on the compactness of her material, fascinated by the idea that women can “fit their lives in their purses.”​5 In the same vein, she is challenging the typical astronomical costs of exhibition installation with the fact that her work could be folded up and fit in her purse, as well.

“I'd just had my two children and was fascinated with this issue of pregnancy, how you expand beyond all recognition sometimes. And then your body is so resilient and just bounces back into shape—well, pretty much so. There was also the elasticity of the psyche during pregnancy, this constant resilience that the body enacts.”​4 — ​ ​Senga Nengudi

R.S.V.P dually operated as a performance site, where Nengudi and accompanying performers would directly engage the pantyhose forms, further stretching and arranging them, testing the limits of the expansive elastic. Her background in dance exists in direct relation to her artistic process and artistic thesis; exploring the limitations of the body and its ability to move through space, she says, are vital in understanding her artistic practice.​3 The title comes from her desire for the audience to genuinely respond to the piece—​R.S.V.P. is an acronym for the French term “répondez s’il vous plaît,” which directly translates to, “please respond.” Her hope was that the audience would test the limits of these pantyhose themselves, as she did in her performances surrounding them, having a sensory and sensual experience with the art.​4 Nengudi’s current work explores her interest in indigenous cultural practices, performance installation, dance, video, and music.​6

Senga Nengudi R.S.V.P. Reverie “Scribe,” ​2014 Nylon mesh, sand,and found metals


Philadelphia-born painter and perform- ance artist Howardena Pindell received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Boston University in 1965, and her Master of Fine Arts from Yale in 1967.​1 Post- graduation, she moved to New York City to work at the Museum of Modern Art as one of its first Black curators, in its Depart- ment of Prints and Illustrated Books, where she worked for twelve years.​2 Though her initial paintings tended toward figuration, over the course of her career Pindell has developed a signature, abstract style of painting.​3 She slices her canvases into smaller shapes and sews them back into a unified form, leaving the physical aftermath of her touch scarred onto the canvas. She is subtly exploring the aestheticization of destruction and reconstruction as a metaphor for identity.​4 She attaches small, painted or drawn- upon paper circles onto enormous canvas- es, where their individual identities are minimized until closer look, building upon surface into a quasi-sculpture. She then paints the structure even further. “The circular form, a recurring shape in Pindell’s [work], refers to the ability to shift negative experiences into something positive.”​5 Rather than stretch her canvases across wood frames, the pieces are mounted to the wall with nails. The canvas becomes the art itself, a surface acted upon and transformed.​2 After she left her position at MoMA as a curator to teach art at the Stony Brook

Howardena Pindell Free, White, and 21,​ 1980 Performance and video

University on Long Island, New York, a severe car accident left her concussed with concurrent amnesia.​2 In the wake of the accident, Pindell claimed, ​“I started to do works that were autobiographical. My feeling was, I could be dead tomorrow.”​2 Eight months after the accident, she acted in her iconic and provocative video performance, ​Free, White and 21 ​(1980).​6 In the piece, she performs dual roles, as a Black and white American woman respectively. The title references the phrase, “free, white, and 21,” a seemingly absurd term that was common in 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood films for glamorizing the unbalanced social conditions of privilege operating in the era. Coincid- entally, Pindell was twenty-one years old upon the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.​3


In the video, Pindell bears whiteface and a blonde wig as her “free, white, and 21” alter ego. This character directly challenges the Black woman, who is Pindell acting as herself, on her state- ments about her traumatic and intergenerational experiences with anti- blackness. Her white counterpart accuses her of paranoia, questioning her validity as a marginalized subject and very existence, all the while she repetitively asserts herself as “free, white, and 21.”​2 The video first exhibited at A.I.R. Gallery, a feminist collective and exhibition space that Pindell co-founded.​2 The artist credits the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation Move- ment with developing her individual assu- mptions.​3 ​Pindell carried out activist work in her personal life, becoming heavily

Howardena Pindell Untitled​, 1971 Acrylic on canvas

involved in Black and feminist artistic movements. She actively and openly critiqued racism and sexism in the art world, sometimes penning anonymous criticisms to art institutions under the pseudonym “The Black Hornet.”​2 Pindell continues to teach at Stony Brook as a tenured professor. She oper- ated as the university’s Master of Fine Arts director between 2003 and 2006.​1 Pindell was bestowed honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and The New School’s Parsons School of Design, and acted as a visiting professor at Yale University’s School of Art between 1995 and 1999.​1 She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Studio Museum in Harlem Artist Award, an Anonymous Was A Woman award, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Joan Mitchell Grant, and the Most Distinguished Body of Work or Performance Award from the College Art Association.​1 Despite her active and successful career, her first major museum survey, “Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen” launched at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2018.​6

Howardena Pindell Free, White, and 21,​ 1980 Performance and video


“I’m Black. Now, let’s deal with this social fact, and the fact of my stating it, together. Maybe you don’t see why we have to deal with it together. Maybe you think this is just my problem, and that I should deal with it by myself. But it’s not just my problem. It’s our problem.”

Adrian Piper is a conceptual and performance artist and philosopher, raised in New York City.​1 She received her undergraduate education at the New York School of Visual Arts in 1969 and com- pleted her doctorate in philosophy at Harvard University in 1981.​2 In 2005, Piper moved to Berlin, where she currently resides. There, she heads the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin, and acts as an editor for ​The Berlin Journal of Philosophy​.3 ​ Her academic endeavors focus on the philosophy of ethics, a prominent theme in her visual art.​4 In merging her philosophical research and conceptual art, she coalesces racial politics with her lived experience as a fair-skinned, racially ambiguous Black woman. An academ- ically-lauded professor, Piper became the first tenured Black female professors of philosophy in the United States in 1987 while she was teaching at Wellesley College.​3 In the 1960s, Piper began working for Sol LeWitt, a conceptual and minimalist artist. Under his influence and guidance, Piper explored racial violence and margin- alization, creating conceptual art surr- ounding minority subjecthood, setting out to challenge “the universal and neutral subject positions so often assumed in art, philosophy, and mass media.”​1,5 She operated as one of few Black women in the conceptual and feminist art circuits of the 1960s and ’70s.​6 Her performances challenge indoctrinated notions of racial, economic, and gendered politics, ultim- ately addressing “our responsibility for the world in which we live.”​6

—Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper The Mythic Being, ​1973 Performance, video

Adrian Piper Self-Portrait as Nice White Lady, ​1995 Black and white autophoto with oil-crayon drawing


“Each of these responses [to race

In her performance series ​Mythic Being (1973-75), she aestheticized herself as a Black man, complete with a prominent mustache, Afro wig, and disguising sunglasses. She paraded through New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts in the costume, filming herself as she publicly announced her thoughts on Black masculinity and socialization, as well as popular public fear of Black men.​2 She interrogated the public on their perceptions of Black masculinity, aggressively confronting their inherent and active biases. Her performances M ​ y Calling (Card) # 1 (for Dinners and Cocktail Parties) a ​ nd My Calling Card #2 (1986-1990), even more directly forced participants to confront their socially constructed values surrounding race and harmful biases.​2

relations]—fear, fantasy, mistrust, suspicion, anger, confusion, ignorance —obstructs my self-transcendence, my ability to lose myself temporarily in the other, in the world, in abstract ideas. These are the barriers my art practice reflects, because they are the ones that keep me grounded… I am no longer drunk on abstract theory, because the sobering facts press in on my daily life too insistently… So partly by my own choice, partly by accidents of my birth and position in society, I am cornered, hemmed in, somewhere in the basement of the building, preparing to crash my way out. My art practice is a reflecting mirror of light and darkness, a high sunny window that holds out to me the promise of release into the night.”​7 —Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper My Calling (Card) #1 (for Dinners and Cocktail Parties)​, 1986–90 Performance prop: business card with printed text on cardboard


Carrie Mae Weems was born in Portland, Oregon.​1 She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts ​degree ​from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia in 1981, and her Master of Fine Arts ​degree from the University of California, San Diego in 1984. She studied at the Graduate Program in Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley between 1984 and 1987.​1 Weems constructs linear narrative through the photographic image. Her work explores racial and gender identity, class, power, and family.​2 Her photographs are significant in their insertion of the Black figure into the tradition of portrait film photography —herself, her family, strangers, friends are presented as nuanced beings, full of love, lust, heartbreak, and joy. She toys with playful aspects of narrative; her images are often ironic, utilizing tongue-in-cheek symbolic imagery in the form of satirical text, mammy dolls, and ironic insertions of stereotypical icons of Black culture. Often joyous, often heartbreaking, they are honest and straightforward in their com- position, but powerful in their emotion. Weems is a visual storyteller. She is most recognized for her iconic visual narrative, the ​Kitchen Table Series (1990), which features Weems herself as the its protagonist, cataloguing her experiences with great love, loss, lust, friendship, and recovery at her kitchen table. Weems credits the K ​ itchen Table Series with having helped her develop her artistic voice, representing tropes and themes

Carrie Mae Weems Kitchen Table Series,​ 1990 Silver gelatin prints


she did not see represented in popular photography at the time.​3 She shot this series during her time living in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she determinedly photographed every day.​3 ​The photographs, shot in black and white, are illuminated by a singular overhead light, reminiscent of an interr- ogation room. We narrow in on the intricacies of this woman’s life through the mundane and the dramatic, as this light becomes a dim spotlight on her life. Her life moves around the unchanging table— the singular constant in her life—and we are joined by her lover, friends, and pres- umed child. The most prominent character in the series—a dynamic, nameless woman portrayed by Weems herself— navigates her interpersonal relationships around this kitchen table as a cycle of secondary characters join her, leave her, and where she finds her own sorrow, peace, and power. Weems is concerned with the integration of activism and art. Her work is in dialogue with her sociocultural up- bringing, watching the dominant politic surrounding race and gender evolve, and criticizing art history’s misogynist and racist history. She also works in video and installation. Weems has received a MacArthur Genius grant as well as a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.​4

Carrie Mae Weems Not Manet's Type​, 1997 Inkjet print

Carrie Mae Weems After Manet​, 2002 C-Print

“I think the [​Kitchen Table]​ images are more current now than ever before, and I’m still very much aware of the ways in which women are discounted: They’re undervalued within the world generally, and within the art world in particular.”​6 —Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems Black Woman with Chicken, ​1987-88 SIlver gelatin print


Lorna Simpson was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., an environment supportive of her interest in the arts, where her parents encouraged her to go to museums, plays, dance performances, and concerts.​1 Simpson received her Bachelor of Fine Arts ​degree in Painting from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1982, and her Master of Fine Arts ​degree ​from the University of California, San Diego in 1985.​2 She spent her young adulthood traveling Europe, Africa, and the United States as a documentary photographer.​2 As she matured as an artist, she began to question the assumed objectivity and veneer of implied truth often associated with documentary photography.​2 Expanding her work as a Black person and artist outside of the voyeuristic history of travel and documentary photography, her artwork moved toward conceptualism. Simpson revitalizes the Black subject’s presence in contemporary photography in deeply innovative ways.


Working from a body of images that are both her own and found objects from vintage catalogues and African-American publications like J​ ET ​Magazine, she transforms their presence in the work with textual and other collaged elements.​3 Her phototext and photocollage works followed the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Simpson was working in a moment where a movement of multiculturalism was taking the art world by storm.​4 She began utilizing the photographic image—an art form often misinterpreted as objective—and trans- formed it into an interpretative social commentary. Her work often depicted the models from behind, concealing their identity and facial features, presented alongside text. In the figures’ anonymity and simultaneous commonality of identity, these subjects tell a story of the Black community, rather than of distinct individuality. While personal and intimate, they cross generational barriers and individualism, elaborating a larger narr- ative of Black identity and experience. Her phototext artworks painted a gendered understanding of racial politics and experiences as a Black person, especially Black women, in the United States. Many of her photographs highlight the vers- atility and histories of Black hair and

Lorna Simpson Five Day Forecast,​ 1991 5 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper and 15 engraved plaques

Lorna Simpson Guarded Conditions,​ 1989 18 color Polaroid prints, 21 engraved plastic plaques and plastic letters


Black women’s relationship to beauty standards, stigmatization, and cultural reclamation, merging “classical beauty and provocative politics.”​4 In excluding the figures’ heads, faces, and limbs, their “fragmentation draws attention to the historical depersonalization and sexual- ization of Black bodies…anchored with obliquely disturbing text, [they] often hint at discrimination and violence.”​2 In 1993, Simpson became the first African-American woman featured in the Venice Biennale.​2 She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985, and a Whitney Museum of American Art Award in 2001.​5 She had a solo retrospective in 2006 and 2007 that traveled to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Miami Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Kalamazoo Institute of Art, and the Gibbes Museum in South Carolina.​10 Simpson has recently been exploring painting as a medium.​2

Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.​1 She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree ​from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, and her Master of Fine Arts ​degree in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994.​2 She is a seminal figure within Black art of the 21st Century. Her controversial work candidly, vulgarly, and expressively exp- lores themes surrounding race, gender, sexuality, and power. Her silhouetted cut- outs, drawings, and sculptures connect the torrid history of slavery to modern-day racism, loudly exposing the similarities between the two regarding violent Black/ white power dynamics within society. Walker’s themes are brazenly displayed in her work through her silhouettes of Antebellum aristocrats and slaves with exaggerated “Negroid” features. Her Victorian silhouettes employ the historical medium as a theatrical narrative tool.​3 Walker depends on the tradition of visual storytelling to incorporate fraught histories of Antebellum slavery and modern archetypes of racism. These silhouettes, cut from Black paper, are working through a visual binary in Black and white. They create a positive and negative, cut out from paper, leaving an impression behind, and contrast in their new surroundings. Her silhouettes reveal immense detail—vulgar and violent scenes—despite little representational detail. The blacked-out figures metaphor- ize the concept of stereotype, saying “a

Kara Walker The Emancipation Approximation (Scene #26), ​1999-2000 Screenprint

Kara Walker The Emancipation Approximation (Scene #18)​, 1999-2000 Screenprint


One of Walker’s most well-known works is a gargantuan sphinx made of sugar, with distinctly exaggerated features and exposed genitalia and breasts. The sculpture, erected in 2014, is titled ​A Subtlety: the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World. The sculpture, made of white sugar and located in a former Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, is a commentary on the racist origins of sugar in slavery and plantations.​7

Kara Walker Untitled,​ 2011 Wood block print

lot with very little information.”​4 The figures blend together, fusing into multi-limbed beings through sex, torture, and other very close, interpersonal action, ambiguously defining these characters and forcing the viewer to infer a narrative.​4 Walker has been actively contested by other artists for her use of exaggerated features recalling blackface and mammy imagery. Betye Saar has accused her work of being “negative and a form of betrayal to the slaves, particularly women and children” and “that it was basically for the amusement and the investment of the white art establishment.”​5 Walker herself rejects these allegations, saying, ​“I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice,’ or worse, ‘being a role model,’ Tired, true, of being a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche.”​6

“[A] ​motif [in my work] is that as a Black woman seeking a position of power I must first dispel with (or at least reckon with) the assumption (not my own, but given to me like an inheritance) that I am amoral, beastly, wild. And that because of this I must be chained, domesticated, kept, traded, bred. And out of this subservient condition… I must escape, go wild, be free, after which I have to confront the questions: How free? How wild? How much further must I go to escape all I’ve internalized?”​2 —​Kara Walker

Kara Walker A Subtlety: the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World, 2014 Sculpture (white cane sugar)


Chromogenic print

Mickalene Thomas was raised in Camden, New Jersey, and currently works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 2000, and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale University School of Art in 2002.​1 She is a painter, collagist, photog- rapher, videographer, and occasional performance artist, often incorporating installation into these mediums. Her work is in conversation with history and popular culture, as she collects aesthetic cues from Western art history, creating bright, multihued and embellished portraits and interior landscapes to utilize these artistic notions to explore femininity, sexuality, standards of beauty, and racial construct- ions of these ideas. She is deeply influenced by her artist peers and predecessors, something she recognizes with candor and explicitly within her installations. In her 2016 exhibition, Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs

and tête-à-tête​, at the Aperture Found- ation in New York, she displayed a structure which she referred to as her “​tête-à-tête,​” meaning “a private convers- ation between two people.”​2 There, she displayed the artwork of artists who had influenced her practice. Thomas was first inspired to create art after seeing Carrie Mae Weems’s traveling exhibition during its time in Portland, which Thomas says she visited 10 times. She refers to this as, “the first work [she had] seen by an African-American woman.”​3 She was specifically drawn to the ​Kitchen Table Series (1990) a ​ nd its reflection of Black family, as she saw her- self and her family in it, saying, ​“It was a profound and transforming moment in my life.”​3 ​This struck an interest for the soon-to-be artist in portraying realities of Black life and womanhood herself. Thomas’s mother, Sandra Bush, became her first of many muses. From there, she used women she loved—as friends, family, and romantic partners—as her “muses,” portraying Black female sexuality and womanhood through the lens of someone who admired these traits as near-divine.

Mickalene Thomas Tell Me What You’re Thinking,​ 2016


Mickalene Thomas Everyone Loves Kalena,​ 2016

Chromogenic print

and political activism with the Black Power and Black is Beautiful movements. These

Mickalene Thomas Untitled,​ 2011 Wood block print

“It was really about me searching, a discovery of myself, trying to understand some of these stereotypes that were a little mysterious to me, how perception is put onto the black body. Codes and modes of posing and dressing, how those can immediately shift your awareness of how people treat you.”​2 —Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas I've Been Good to Me​, 2012 Mixed media print (screenprint, monoprint, silica flocking, wood veneer and digital printing on museum board)

Thomas ornaments her portraits with an amalgam of rhinestones and bling, exploring the simultaneously perform- ative, sleek, and over-the-top nature of hyper-feminine identity and sexuality. Her subjects drape across her installed sets, which she often develops in her Brooklyn studio, posing as the muses in Western art masterpieces often do. Thomas often incorporates installation into her med- iums, creating polychromatic, maximalist landscapes where her muses thrive.

seminal decades proved a radical trans- formation for Black women’s aesthetic possibilities and freedom in regard to style, as well as expanding, or rejecting, beauty standards. She is exploring the Black feminine aesthetic in relation to a dominant and sub-cultures, as well as its insertion into art historical narratives. Thomas wants the viewer to wonder about the identity of the women in her paintings, many of whom are Thomas’s partners, friends, or family.​2 Immersed in pop culture and politics, Thomas was commissioned to design the cover art of Solange Knowles’s ​True EP in her signature style.​5 She was also responsible for painting the first portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama,

“What’s happening in art and history right now is the validation and agency of the Black female body. We do not need permission to be present.”​4 —Mickalene Thomas

Thomas’s aesthetics often reference 1960s through 1980s fashion and visual culture, parsing through decades that encapsulated a significant period of social


Industry (Husband and Wife),​ 2017 Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper; Diptych

displayed in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.​6

Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in Nigeria and raised in Alabama.​1 She achieved her undergraduate degree in Studio Art and Communications at the University of Alab- ama in Huntsville, graduating in 2008, and her Master of Fine Arts ​degree from the California College of the Arts in 2012.​2 She creates elaborate, textured portraits in pastel and ink. Her paintings, while highly stylized and detailed, reveal the “complexity and malleability of identity” in their textured layering of blacks and colors.​3 Her means of portraying skin and texture have made her an emerging iconic figure in the modern art world. Her body of work has evolved from monochromatic, textured pen ink drawings, to vast, life-sized, polychromatic portraits. Her early pen drawings typically featured an isolated, decontextualized subject, whereas her newer works comb- ine figure and place, highlighting relat- ionships between characters in the story she weaves.

Toyin Ojih Odutola I Wish You Would,​ 2011 Pen ink and acrylic ink

In her monochromatic pen ink draw- ings, she is exploring the depth and versatility of the color black. She explains: “I’m doing black on black on black, trying to make it as layered as possible in the deepness of the blackness to bring it out. I noticed the pen became this incredible tool. The black ballpoint [pen] ink on blackboard would become copper tone and I was like ‘wow, this isn’t even black at all!’ The black board was like this balancing platform for the ink to become something else. I instantly recognized this notion, of how we think something is a certain way and in reality it is something else…”​4 Odutola’s solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York City featured a series of life-sized portraits narrating a saga surrounding the union of two

Toyin Ojih Odutola


fictional, aristocratic Nigerian families—an imagined future of a Nigeria that had been able to exist uncolonized without the influence of Western supremacy, free from colonial perceptions of African wealth, culture, and identity.​3 The draw- ings are layered in rich, vast polychromatic tones. Odutola explores how skin “feels,” and the possibilities it contains as a surface for identity formation and movement.​1 Her rich portraits expose the intimacy of the skin, through what is available to a viewer at first glance. “Treating skin as

topography, she layers ink as a means of mapping a person’s subjective, individual geography built from real-life experien- ces.”​5 She is creating characters through forward-thinking depictions of Black identity and life through friendship, kinship, and romantic love. The color and body language she utilizes give us, as viewers, clues into the personalities of these figures as multidimensional Black folks. They are not necessarily good, not necessarily evil, but imperfect, and beautiful, and life-sized.

Toyin Ojih Odutola Pregnant,​ 2017 Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper


“The skin in the drawings I create was initially an investigation into what skin felt like, to live in that space and the way that affects how the skin is defined, how it is read, how it creates parameters for movement and possibility. I wanted to analyze that through the platform and vehicle of skin, to have it serve as an access point. The style I employ was my way of questioning that surface and seeing the ways I could expand on it. Since then, the investigation has evolved to tackle how the skin can be placed within a composition, how it works within a larger system on a picture plane and, by extension, how the skin is placed in a public forum.” —​Toyin Ojih Odutola



1. ​“National Museum of Women in the Arts.” ​Alma Woodsey Thomas | National Museum of Women in the Arts, ​ 2. ​"Thomas, Alma 1891–1978." Contemporary Black Biography. 19 Apr. 2018. 3. ​Sheets, Hilarie. “Pioneering Painter Alma Thomas Is Making a Comeback 30 Years after Her Last Major Retrospective.” A ​ rtsy​, 21 Jan. 2016, -painter-alma-thomas​-is-making-a-comeback-over-30-years-since-her-last-major-retrospecti ve. 4. ​“Exhibition Alma Thomas.” T ​ he Studio Museum in Harlem​, 5. ​Embuscado, Rain. “5 Facts to Celebrate Alma Thomas's 125th Birthday.” ​Artnet News​, Artnet News, 22 Sept. 2016, 6. ​“​Alma Thomas.” ​Smithsonian American Art Museum​, 7. ​“Impasto.” ​Artsy​,


1. ​Gwendolyn Knight - Bio​, 2. ​Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence Legacy Resource Center​. 3. ​“Gwen Knight.” D ​ C Moore Gallery​, 4. ​“Gwendolyn Knight.” ​The Johnson Collection, LLC (Spartanburg, SC)​, 5. ​“Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series.” J​ acob Lawrence: The Migration Series​, 6. ​"Knight, Gwendolyn.". “Knight, Gwendolyn.” ​Contemporary Black Biography​,, 2018, -art-biographies/gwendolyn-knight. 7. ​Knight, Gwen. “Gwen Knight.” ​Davidson Galleries | Antique Modern Contemporary Works On Paper​, 8. ​“Diaspora.” M ​ erriam-Webster​, Merriam-Webster,

ELIZABETH CATLETT 1. ​“Elizabeth Catlett.” ​Elizabeth Catlett | Artnet​, catlett/. 2. ​“National Museum of Women in the Arts.” ​Elizabeth Catlett | National Museum of Women in the Arts​, 3. ​Uiowa. “UI Names Residence Hall after Elizabeth Catlett.” I​ owa Now​, 9 Sept. 2016, 4. ​Rosenberg, Karen. “Elizabeth Catlett, Sculptor With Eye on Social Issues, Dies at 96.” The New York Times​, The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2012, 04/04/arts/design/elizabeth-catlett-sculptor-with-eye-on-social-issues-dies-at-96 Html. 5. ​Guggenheim, 6. ​Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Cubism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Apr. 2018, 33


1. ​“Betye Saar (B.1926).” ​Betye Saar (B.1926) - Artists - Michael Rosenfeld Art​, 2. ​“Betye Saar | Now Dig This! Digital Archive.” H ​ ammer Museum​, 14 Nov. 2016, 3. ​“Influences: Betye Saar.” F ​ rieze​, 4. ​“Betye Saar.” ​Brooklyn Museum: Betye Saar​, 5. ​Miranda, Carolina A. “For Betye Saar, There's No Dwelling on the Past; the Almost-90-Year-Old Artist Has Too Much Future to Think About.” ​Los Angeles Times​, Los Angeles Times, 29 Apr. 2016, 6. ​“Influences: Betye Saar.” F ​ rieze​, 7. ​Montagne, Renee. “Life Is a Collage for Artist Betye Saar.” ​NPR​, NPR, 28 Dec. 2006, 8. ​Tate. “Assemblage – Art Term.” T ​ ate​,

FAITH RINGGOLD 1.​“Faith Ringgold.” G ​ uggenheim​, 2. ​“Faith Ringgold.” B ​​, A&E Networks Television, 10 May 2016, 3. ​“Faith Ringgold.” Brooklyn Museum: Faith Ringgold, 4. ​Mead, Rebecca. “Behind Bars.” ​The New Yorker​, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, 5. ​Ringgold, Faith. ​We Flew over the Bridge: the Memoirs of Faith Ringgold​. Duke University Press, 2005. 6. ​“Faith Ringgold Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” ​The Art Story​, 7. ​Faith Ringgold - Biography​, 8. ​Kolber, Ramsay. “An Exhibition About Revolution That Keeps Faith with Ringgold.” M ​ oore Women Artists​, 18 Sept. 2017,

LORRAINE O’GRADY 1. ​Rosenberg, Karen. “How Lorraine O'Grady Transformed Harlem Into a Living Artwork in the '80s-and Why It Couldn't Be Done Today.” ​Artspace​, 22 July 2015, r-​980s-parade-performance-harlem-52996. 2. ​“Lorraine O'Grady.” A ​ lexander Gray Associates​, 3. ​“MoMA Learning.” ​MoMA | Lorraine O'Grady. Untitled (Mlle Bourgeoise Noire). 1980-83/2009​,​0​9.

4. ​“David Hammons, Stevie Wonder, and a Groundbreaking African American Art Gallery.” Guggenheim​, 3 Mar. 2017, i​an-american-art-gallery. 5. ​Estefan, Kareem, et al. “Lorraine O'Grady.” ​Art in America​, 6. ​“Meet Moya Bailey, the Black Woman Who Created the Term ‘Misogynoir.’” M ​ ic​, Mic Network Inc., 30 Aug. 2016, created-the-term-misogynoir.


EMMA AMOS 1.​ “Emma Amos.” ​Emma Amos​, 2. ​“Ryan Lee Now Represents Emma Amos -.” ​ARTnews​, 20 Jan. 2016, 3. ​“Emma Amos (b. 1938).” ​New Georgia Encyclopedia​, 4. ​Gardiner, Susannah. “Why Making a Portrait of a Black Woman Was a Form of Protest.”​, Smithsonian Institution, 13 Nov. 2017, protest-180967158/.


1.​“Senga Nengudi Is One of the 2016 USA Fellowship Winners | Contemporary And.” Contemporary And Senga Nengudi Is One of the 2016 USA Fellowship Winners Comments​, ds/. 2. ​ | Welcome to the World of Senga Nengudi, African American Artist​, 3. ​“MoMA Learning.” ​MoMA | Senga Nengudi. R.S.V.P. I. 1977/2003​, 4. ​Hawbaker, KT. “Senga Nengudi Stretches the Limits of Womanhood.” ​​, 20 Sept. 2017, h​ml. 5. ​Finkel, Jori. “Q&A: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi.” L​ os Angeles Times​, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov. 2011, 6. ​“Senga Nengudi.” ​13 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy​,

HOWARDENA PINDELL 1. ​“Howardena Pindell.” B ​ rooklyn Museum: Howardena Pindell​, 2. ​“Full Circle: Howardena Pindell Steps Back into the Spotlight with a Traveling Retrospective -.” ARTnews​, 6 Feb. 2018, spective/. 3. ​“MoMA Learning.” ​MoMA | Howardena Pindell. Free, White and 21. 1980​, 4. ​“Howardena Pindell.” G ​ arth Greenan Gallery​, 5. ​“Howardena Pindell | Constellations | The Met.” ​The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum​, 6. ​Voon, Claire. “Howardena Pindell Gets Her First Major Museum Survey.” ​Hyperallergic​, Hyperallergic, 2 Apr. 2018, ar-art-chicago/.



1. ​“Adrian Piper.” L​ évy Gorvy Gallery​, 2. ​Blumberg, Naomi. “Adrian Piper.” E ​ ncyclopædia Britannica​, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Nov. 2016, 3. ​“Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin.” ​Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin​, 4. ​“Adrian Piper.” B ​ rooklyn Museum: Adrian Piper​, 5. ​“Adrian Piper | Take It or Leave It Digital Archive.” ​Hammer Museum​, 30 Jan. 2017, 6. ​“Adrian Piper.” D ​ uke University Press​, 7. ​Piper, Adrian. ​Out of Order, out of Sight​. 1999.

CARRIE MAE WEEMS 1. ​“Carrie Mae Weems.” ​Artsy​, 2. ​“Carrie Mae Weems.” ​Art21​, 3. ​Eckardt, Stephanie. “Carrie Mae Weems Reflects on Her Seminal ‘Kitchen Table’ Series.” W ​ Magazine​, 19 Apr. 2018, 4. ​Design, Lisa Goodlin. “Carrie Mae Weems.” C ​ arrie Mae Weems : Biography​,

LORNA SIMPSON 1. ​“Interview with Lorna Simpson.” A ​ perture Foundation NY​,​. 2. ​“Lorna Simpson.” G ​ uggenheim​, 3. ​“Lorna Simpson.” A ​ rtsy​, 4. ​“Lorna Simpson.” A ​ rtspace​, 5. ​Craine, Anthony G. “Lorna Simpson.” ​Encyclopædia Britannica​, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Nov. 2014,

KARA WALKER 1. ​“Kara Walker.” ​Sikkema Jenkins Co.​, 2. ​Als, Hilton. “Kara Walker's Shadow Act.” ​The New Yorker​, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, 3. ​“Kara Walker.” ​Art21​, 4. ​“Kara Walker Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” T ​ he Art Story​, 5. ​“Provocations.” ​PBS​, Public Broadcasting Service, 6. ​Gopnik, Blake. “Kara Walker, 'Tired of Standing Up,' Promises Art, Not Answers.” T ​ he New York Times​, The New York Times, 16 Aug. 2017, 7. ​Smith, Roberta. “Kara Walker Traces Slavery's Bitter Legacy With New Ways of Drawing.” T ​ he New York Times​, The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2017,


MICKALENE THOMAS 1. ​“Mickalene Thomas.” 2. ​Felsenthal, Julia. “Mickalene Thomas on Her Photographic Muses.” V ​ ogue​, Vogue, 26 May 2017, 3. ​Kino, Carol. “Mickalene Thomas Has First New York Solo Show at Lehmann Maupin.” T ​ he New York Times​, The New York Times, 7 Apr. 2009, 4. ​Frank, Priscilla. “Why Mickalene Thomas Is Art History's Plastic Surgeon.” T ​ he Huffington Post​,, 7 Dec. 2017, 5. ​“Making Up with Mickalene Thomas.” ​Interview Magazine​, 26 June 2014, 6. ​“Making Up with Mickalene Thomas.” ​Interview Magazine​, 26 June 2014,

TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA 1. ​Benson, Eben. “Beyond the Cover: Toyin Ojih Odutola.” J​ uxtapoz Magazine - Home​, 2. ​“AllContent.” ​Toyin Ojih Odutola​, 3. ​“Toyin Ojih Odutola:To Wander Determined Oct 20, 2017–Feb 25, 2018.” ​Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined | Whitney Museum of American Art​, ASAAEgLwWPD_BwE. 4. ​“Toyin Ojih Odutola.” J​ ack Shainman Gallery ​, 5. ​“Toyin Ojih Odutola.” A ​ rtsy​,

The images within this book do not belong to the author. This is not a monetized project. 37


Jasmine Weber is a visual artist completing her degree at Columbia University in the Center for Studies in Ethnic and Race, with a concentration in Visual Arts and English. Working specifically in portraiture, conceptual photography, and collage, her art confronts the idea of Black autonomy, beauty, and representation. She is focused on the lack of diversity in the art world regarding creators, subjects, curators, administrators, and viewers. Her academic, professional, and personal goals are focused on expanding the limitations that art presents in these fields, monetarily and socially, to allow previously and currently underserved groups expanded access to artistic resources. You can view her artwork at ​​ and contact her at ​​. Back cover: Jasmine Weber Pinup, ​2017 Collage, digital and mixed media 38


The production of this project would not have been possible without the boundless help and of my friends, family, and advisors. Special thanks to: My thesis advisor, Deborah Cullen, who graciously advised B ​ lack Lives and Longevity and gave more thoughtful, honest, and encouraging criticism than I could have hoped for. César Colón-Montijo and Sayantani DasGupta of from the Columbia University Center for Studies in Ethnic and Race. The incredible Education department at the Studio Museum in Harlem. My mother, my copy editor, and my best friend. My father, who has always been the fiercest proponent of my success, and the best man I’ve ever met. Tyrell and Dylan, because I love you more than I say out loud. Zsanné and Casey Mcrae, my sisters by choice and by chance. To Gabby Afable, Keenan Teddy Smith, Julia Angelica Muhsen, Oten Iban, and David Lee Sierra. To every friend who has given me such thoughtful insight, who has advised me, who has been with me up until the early morning I pushed “submit.” And to each of these artists, for the unimaginable ways that they have inspired me.


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