The Most Influential Living African American Artists


In 1926, the historian Carter G. Woodson instituted Negro History Week. The second-ever African American recipient of a Ph.D. from Harvard (after W.E.B. DuBois), Woodson wanted to acknowledge the vibrant cultural achievements of African American individuals that were rippling through the country. At the time, Harlem was brimming with poets such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, while Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller were developing Chicago’s jazz scene. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially transformed Woodson’s initiative into the month-long celebration we honor to this day: Black History Month.

While it’s impossible to capture the full impact of black artists on art history, we asked prominent art historians and curators reflect on 20 living African American artists who are making a mark on painting, photography, performance, and sculpture. Below, with the artists listed alphabetically, are their reflections.

From Vida L. Brown, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager, California African American Museum:

Grounded and well-spoken at the age of 88, Faith Ringgold has an internal flame that is yet to be extinguished. As an artist, activist, author, and educator, Ringgold tells stories via various genres. She captures and displays the history of African Americans who continue to thrive despite years of disparaging characterizations, deplorable physical treatment, and ignored civil rights.

The 1960s was a notable period in Ringgold’s art career. During that time, she commenced painting the “American People Series” (1963–67), which illustrated the Civil Rights Movement from a woman’s perspective. Over the decades, Ringgold continues to demonstrate the marginalization of women of color. Yet her relentless nature also lets viewers rejoice in the documentation of African American history. More importantly, Ringgold continues to pave the way for women artists. Her art is a voice that will not be silenced.

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Feb 25, 2019