Diversity In The Art Industry: Five Black Artists To Check Out

By Mary Ma

The high art market that resides in auction houses and museums has historically belonged to rich white men. Unfortunately, that trend still continues today; in a 2019 study featured in PLoS One, an analysis of more than 40,000 works of art in 18 major U.S. art museums’ online catalogues detailed that 85 percent of artists featured were white and 87 percent were men. African American artists occupied only 1.2 percent of art in all of the 18 museums featured in this study. When museums all over the country are trumpeting visions of diversity, why are people of color and womxn, still so underrepresented?

The underrepresentation of minorities in the museum and art auctioning space isn’t surprising when we look at the origins of museums itself. Many famous museums were designed originally as manor houses meant to show off the collections of the upper classes, much of which was dominated by white men. 

The historical oppression of minority voices continues to the categorical determination of what “high art” is.

The historical oppression of minority voices continues to the categorical determination of what “high art” is. For decades, continuing into now, artwork created by womxn and people of color were deemed as decorative art pieces. Quilts, pottery, and textile work, work associated with certain ethnicities or the domestic sphere were relegated to a “lesser” category of art in an effort to silence minorities and womxn. 

The odds, in any industry, including the art industry, are ultimately stacked against womxn and people of color, especially African Americans. Art museums should be spaces where people of all backgrounds feel welcome and represented. Museums need to make a conscious effort to truly represent historically unheard voices.

Here are some incredible Black Artists to Check out:

Faith Ringold: Faith Ringold is an African American painter, writer, mixed media and textile artist, and performance artist. She is also a dedicated civil rights and gender equality activist. Ringold is best known for her narrative quilts, which often focuses on denouncing racism and sexism. She aims to rewrite African American art history through her work, emphasizing family, roots and artistic collaboration. She has worked with many activist groups, including Womanhouse, a feminist art installation from the 1970s. See some more of her work on her website.

Faith Ringgold: an inherently political oeuvre
Faith Ringgold, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, Color lithograph, Sheet: 22 x 30 inches (55.9 x 76.2 cm), 1996, © Faith Ringgold

Kara Walker: Kara Walker is an African American painter, sculptor and installation artist. Walker’s work covers a variety of issues including race, sexuality, gender, violence and identity. She is best known for her silhouette work, See more of her work on her website.

Kara Walker born 1969 | Tate
Kara Walker, Grub for Sharks: A Concession to the Negro Populace, 2004, © Kara Walker

Mark Bradford: Mark Bradford is an African American multimedia artist. Bradford works with collages, using found material scavenged from the streets to create large collage and installation pieces. His work moves with the city, responding to the impromptu happenings and abandoned public spaces that emerge.

Mixed media collage by Mark Bradford.
Mark Bradford, Bread and Circuses, 2007. Mixed-media collage on canvas, 133 x 253 in. (337.8 x 642.6 cm).

Amy Sherald: Amy Sherald is an African American painter based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work mostly consists of portrait paintings. Sherald aims to expand the genre of American historical portraits to include the African American story. Check out more of her work on her website.

She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them
2018, 54 x 43 inches, Oil on Canvas, © 2017 Amy Sherald

Ervin A. Johnson: Ervin A. Johnson is an African American mixed media artist based in Chicago. Johnson uses photo-based mixed media to explore his cultural identity. Check out more of his work on his website.

Ervin A. Johnson -#InHonor ⋆ In the In-Between
Ervin A. Johnson, J’La, 2016. Photo-based mixed media, 36×48″, ©Ervin A. Johnson.

#metoo in MCPS: dozens of sexual assault and harassment claims shared over social media

By Mary Ma

Trigger warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.

Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 if you need assistance. Help is confidential and free.

After the widespread allegations against Harvey Weistein in 2017, the #MeToo movement came to being. Recently, the movement has hit close to home, with sexual harassment and assault claims posted over social media by students, alum and other citizens of Montgomery County.

Instagram accounts such as @survivorsatwootton, @survivorsatbcc, @metoomoco and others are posting anonymous student submitted allegations. While @survivorsatwootton is keeping the alleged perpetrators anonymous, @metoomoco is posting names of perpetrators and occasionally pictures in an effort to warn students.

The claims belong to many schools as well as workplaces. Blair, Wootton, Richard Montgomery, Paint Branch, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Quince Orchard, and Magruder are a few of the schools that the claims belong to. From unsolicited nudes to rape, the stories are alarming. Some allegations were also directed towards teachers.

On June 26th, MCPS superintendent Jack R. Smith responded to the allegations. In the letter, Smith said, “…all allegations involving our schools and/or students that come to our attention will be investigated.” In the statement, he also urges students and parents who “have information regarding an alleged sexual assault” to contact the Montgomery County Police Department.

In another community message sent out July 1st, Smith elaborates on MCPS initiatives over the last five years combating sexual assault. He states, “As an immediate next step, I have asked our Director of Student Welfare and Compliance/Title IX Coordinator to lead a process—involving all offices of our school system—to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted into each viable report, and to take the necessary steps in response to what we find.”

Administration across schools have responded in different ways. At Montgomery Blair High School, where the movement originated and gained significant traction, many students have called on Principal Renay Johnson via Twitter to respond. Johnson did not respond and instead, blocked a few vocal Blair students. 

Many petitions involving sexual assault in MCPS have also emerged online. One notable one is the Change.org petition to make a scheduling tool that prevents survivors being put into the same class as their abuser. The petition has over 15,000 signatures.

In an interview with @metoomoco over Instagram DM, they clarify aspects of the #MeToo movement in MCPS. Here’s what they said:

What is the purpose behind this initiative?

Our purpose is to provide a safe space for and amplify the voices of survivors in MCPS who have oftentimes been ignored (or worse) by their school and community.

How has the administration across MCPS responded to the cases?

So far, MCPS has released a statement about the sexual assault cases but it was fairly empty. Across many schools in the county, students have been silenced and belittled by the administration and teachers meant to help them. 

How have moco students responded?

The majority of moco students are very grateful to have this platform. Being believed and supported can be life-changing for some survivors. Of course, we receive some backlash from those accused and anonymous accounts.

Do you agree with the way MCPS has been handling sexual assault?

I think MCPS has done a poor job handling the sexual assaults. Before this, almost all cases were brushed under the rug. Survivors are often attacked or belittled by their own schools admin. I also think that MCPS largely missed the point in their letter. They asked people to share anonymous tips of SAs, something I disagree with since not every survivor may want to press charges. A survivor’s story should be their own.