February is Black History month. This observance was originally designated as just a weeklong celebratory period in 1926 when the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which was founded by Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland, sponsored National Negro History week to recognize and promote the achievements of Black Americans and people of African descent. Today, the ASNLH is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Since 1926, Negro History week was adopted and celebrated in schools and communities nationwide. During the 1960’s, thanks in large measure to the Civil Rights movement, it extended into Black History Month. In 1976, Gerald R. Ford was the first president to officially recognized Black History Month. Since that time, each president has designated February as Black History Month and commemorates it with a specific theme. This year’s theme is “African Americans in Times of War,” which honors the roles Black Americans have played from the American Revolution to today.
In honor of the month-long celebration, the Spring Creek Sun has compiled a short list of African-American artists whose work has helped shape the fine arts industry.
Kehinde Wiley: A New York based visual artist, who paints portraits that toe the line of traditional and modern artwork. Wiley has transformed the concept of contemporary portraitists by portraying black men and women (originally images of Harlem residents) in powerful and majestic stances. These poses intertwine a regal attitude with urban culture. His work has inspired many artists because it highlights relevant socio-political issues as well as sculpts an honorable and heroic perspective of his subjects.
Alma Woodsey Thomas: An abstract painter, whose bright colors and intricate style was first debuted when she was 75 years old. Thomas was born within the throes of racial violence in Columbus, Georgia She studied at Howard University and became their first student to graduate with a fine arts degree in 1924. It wasn’t until 1966 that her abstract paintings were exhibited at Howard University, which has been com-pared to that of the Byzantine mosaics. Thomas was also the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and has showcased her paintings at the White House three times.
Lorna Simpson: A Crown Heights native, whose photography and graphic artistry has amazed many since the 1980s. Simpson graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her studies inspired her to delve deep into the implied truths of photography. She began debuting photos with simple text, a sort of deadpan image similar to the likes of Martha Rosler. Simpson used her photography to unveil and challenge cultural, gender, and racial concepts. She would often have African American male and female models pose, photographing them from behind. Simpson then distorted the images into fragments showcasing society’s deep rooted sexualization and dehumanization of black bodies.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: A New York graffiti artists who took his gritty street work into the art gallery circuit. Basquiat is one of the most widely celebrated artist from the Neo-Expressionism art movement (a style of late modernist or early-postmodern painting and sculpture that emerged in the late 1970s. Neo-expressionists were sometimes called Trans-avantgarde, Junge Wilde, or Neue Wilden.)
Edmonia Lewis: The first professional African-American sculptor to achieve international recognition. She was born in New York in 1843. Her father was a free African-American and her mother a Chippewa Indian. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio in 1859, but was forced to leave after she was accused of a crime she did not commit. She moved to Boston, where she studied under the tutelage of portrait sculptor Edward Brackett. Lewis created medallion portraits of well-known abolitionists, which allowed her to fund her first trip to Europe where she decided to settle in Rome and continued to sculpt.
Kendario La’Pierre: A digital mixed-media artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her Afro-surrealist works explore black culture, identity, and mortality.
Laolu Senbanjo: is a Brooklyn based Nigerian born performance and visual artist, who is known for using the human body as his canvas. His work, coined the “Sacred Art of the Ori Yoruba” body paint ritual has been featured in many music videos (Beyonce’s Grammy Award winning Visual Album, “Lemonade”), magazines and other places. His work combines artistry, African culture, and activism.
Photos courtesy of artists’ websites