Black art is an important part of the Black identity, its development, and its history. Black artists are trusted with the task of representing our experiences and creating a platform to lift our voices. Coming from a time where art only depicted white people in positions of power, creating art representing Black people in power is a radical move of its own. It's important to remember those who were the first individuals brave enough to tell our side of the story.
Emory Douglas is a name many of us are unfamiliar with, but we need to put some respect on his name.
Emory was the first and the only Minister of the Culture for the Black Panther Party. He upheld the dynamic duty of of illustrating the agenda of the Black Panther Party and empowering the Black community.
After being wrongfully profiled and arrested during his youth, Emory began printmaking at the juvenile detention center where he was detained.
He went on to study graphic design at San Francisco City College where he discovered his love for the Black Arts Movement. His ability to combine printmaking and activism caught the eye of the revolutionary Bobby Seale and he became an integral force for the party. His work sought to provoke both feelings of uncomfortability and hope for Black folks in the time of struggle.
After incorporating Emory's powerful art in the paper, it's circulation exploded to over 200,000 readers, making it one of the most popular Black newspapers of its time.
The work of Emory Douglas has influenced generations of radical Black art and has inspired Black artists to carve their own narrative and stand up for what they believe is right.
Emma Amos is a name we should mention when discussing artists of the revolutionary type.
She was the youngest and only woman in Spiral, a group of African American artists who sought to explore the relationship between art and the civil rights movement. Much of Amos's work was focused on the concepts of gender and race. She pushed the limits with her art, combining painting with textiles.
Emma Amos was an anomaly.
Amos felt it was important that other artists weren't erased from public view. She held membership in many organizations in order to live true to her passion. In addition to being a member of Spiral, she was also a member of the Guerrilla Girls- a group that sought to highlight the ways in which women artists were underrepresented in museum collections and on gallery rosters.
Being a Black woman in the art world comes with much adversity. Despite all of the obstacles, Amos dedicated most of her life toward teaching. She was a professor at numerous universities such as the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. She willfully shared her knowledge with students and the public and was committed to supporting other Black artists.
Amos has inspired later generations of artists, women and men alike, to push the limits of their creativity and utilize art as a form of activism.
Barkley Hendricks was a painter who revolutionized portraiture through his depictions of Black Americans in urban areas in the 60s and 70s. Every portrait exudes flavor and attitude particular to the Black figure. Barkley's portraits freed the Black body from the white gaze. In short, his work was powerful.
From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Hendricks attended Yale University, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Fine Art in 1972. During the 1960s, Barkley experienced an "artistic awakening" that changed the direction of his life.
While traveling in Europe and witnessing the works of art masters in prestigious galleries, he noticed how the galleries failed at representing artists and subjects of color. This inspired Barkley to create more of what he wanted to see in the art world.
He began to paint portraits of Black people, many of whom he knew personally, and captured their essence with dignity, vulnerability, and power. Barkley felt he was able to create a sense of immediacy that had long been denied.
The power of Hendricks' work is felt through the generations that preceded him, inspiring the works of many later greats such as Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, and countless others dedicated to shining light on darkness.