100 Black Innovators in 10 Days (DAY 4: Artists)
Welcome to 100 Black Innovators in 10 Days, a campaign aiming to showcase the work, voices, and impact that these innovators have had throughout history. Today we are featuring the work of 10 Black Artists. Spanning from a variety of different mediums, these artists capture, express, imagine and challenge their realities and ours.
Augusta Savage (1892 - 1962)
Savage was the first black artist to join the now-defunct National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Her career as a sculptor began in New York City, during the Harlem Renaissance. Her work was largely influenced by the times. Her most notable work, "The Harp," which was commissioned for the 1939 New York World's Fair, was dismantled once the fair ended due to a lack of resources to maintain and store it.
James Van Der Zee (1886 - 1983)
James Van Der Zee was a renowned, Harlem-based photographer known for his posed, storied pictures capturing African American citizenry and celebrity. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing during the 1920s and '30s, and for decades, Van Der Zee would photograph Harlemites of all backgrounds and occupations, though his work is particularly noted for its pioneering depiction of middle-class African-American life. He took thousands of pictures, mostly indoor portraits, and labeled each of his photos with a signature and date, which would prove to be important for future documentation.
Kara Walker (1969 - )
Walker is best known for exploring the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality through her iconic, silhouetted figures. Walker unleashes the traditionally proper Victorian medium of the silhouette directly onto the walls of the gallery, creating a theatrical space in which her unruly cut-paper characters fornicate and inflict violence on one another.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (1980 - )
Pamela Sunstrum is a painter and illustrator driven by a fascination with ancient mythologies and scientific theories. Her works explore the sense of identity within temporal, geographic and cultural contexts. Sunstrum developed an alter-ego, Asme, simultaneously futuristic and ancient, representational and fantastical, that crosses traditional borders and expands into the universe. The relationship between the female body, the notions of sublime and the idea of the landscape are paramount in her work.
Titus Kaphar (1976 - )
Titus Kaphar is an artist whose paintings, sculptures, and installations examine the history of representation by transforming its styles and mediums with formal innovations to emphasize the physicality and dimensionality of the canvas and materials themselves. His practice seeks to dislodge history from its status as the “past” in order to unearth its contemporary relevance. In so doing, Kaphar’s aim is to reveal something of what has been lost and to investigate the power of a rewritten history.
Tschabalala Self (1990 - )
"Acknowledgment of black life is society’s only tool against anti-blackness. However, love for black culture and black people is often saccharine. .... Lawrence Grandpre reminds us “that one can simultaneously be against white supremacy and support anti-blackness.” I would argue that the inverse too can be true. During this time of reflection, for those who care...show support through action and work feverishly to reverse a lifetime of programming projected onto you which defines blackness as both exalted and abject." —Tschabalala Self
Based in Brooklyn, Sean Qualls is a children's book illustrator, artist, and author. Much of his work is centered around exploring history and non-fiction subjects. The fine art he creates often focuses on race and identity and the intersection of history and mythology. In addition to illustrations, you can find him DJing.
Kehinde Wiley (1977 - )
Kehinde Wiley is an American portrait painting artist based in New York. Wiley is especially known for his highly naturalistic paintings of Black people. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery commissioned Wiley to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama, making Wiley the first black artist to paint official portraits of the president for the National Portrait Gallery. Wiley has received numerous awards, including the Medal of Arts Lifetime Achievement Award; he is pictured here with Secretary Kerry as one of the recipients.
Amy Sherald (1973 - )
Amy Sherald is based in Baltimore, Maryland and is best known for her portrait paintings. Her work strives to further expand upon American art historical realism by telling the stories of African American people. One aspect of her work that distinguishes her from others is her use of grisaille to portray skin tones, which is one way she challenges the concept of color-as-race. Sherald was chosen by Michelle Obama to paint the portrait of the former first lady. Her painting was unveiled in the National Portrait Gallery on February 12, 2018. Sherald was the first black artist to paint an official portrait of the first lady for the National Portrait Gallery.
Carly Cushnie is a New York City-based entrepreneur who founded the brand CUSHNIE, a luxury women's ready-to-wear and bridal brand. The CUSHNIE aesthetic is dedicated to cosmopolitan minimalism and femininity. The CUSHNIE Collection is worn by influential women everywhere, including Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Gal Gadot, Jennifer Lopez, and Lupita Nyong'o.
Want to learn more? Stay tuned as we highlight 100 black innovators from a wide range of fields. We hope you feel inspired by the accomplishments of these immensely talented individuals.
In case you missed it, check out the other innovators we have highlighted so far: