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.