Credit: Dawn Okoro

5 Black Women Artists You Need To Know

Human Interest

Recently, the National Museum of Women in the Arts' (NMWA) campaign #5WomenArtists posed a very interesting question: Can you name five women artists?

According to NMWA, that question was difficult for many to answer because women artists are often erased, overlooked, and invisibilized in a field that is historically and contemporarily dominated by white men. However, I would love to pose another question: Can you name five Black women artists? While women in general are oft-neglected in the art world, Black women artists are even further marginalized due to racialized-gendered oppressions and mechanisms that seek to overlook their artistic prowess. Moreover, data shows the arts –– just like many other fields –– is also pervasively and predominantly occupied by white women.

Because of the historically and even contemporarily racist, sexist, and classist environment of the arts, there are countless established and up-and coming Black women artists who are not recognized by the mainstream art-world. For example, statistics also shows that when "surveying the top 100 U.S. artists by volume from the last 30 years, and specifically looking at black artists, there are only three women: Kara Walker, Ellen Gallagher, and Mickalene Thomas."

With this chronic lack of centering the brilliance of Black women in the arts, get to know five brilliant Black women artists –– Sha Rich, Dawn Okoro, Adele "Supreme Williams, Giselle Buchanan, and Adee Roberson –– and how through their creative, diverse, and innovative artistic mediums are revolutionizing their respective communities.

Sha Rich | @richmethods

Photo: Sha Rich

Hailing from Tappahannock, Virginia, Sha Rich is an artistic force to be reckoned with. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Jamel Shabazz, Anita Baker, Carrie Mae Weems, Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, and Gordon Parks, Rich is a self-taught artist and photographer who draws portraits of prominent figures and everyday people. With a BFA in Graphic Design and a BS in Creative Advertising, her artistic mission and vision is to create and craft images of the Black community as sites of resistance and explore ideas of pain, pride, and dignity –– which are images she says "she wishes were more mainstream."

Photo Credits: Sha Rich | Images posted with the permission of Sha Rich

With her dream job of having solo shows worldwide, the creative and even political impetus behind Rich's work is to ensure the Black community and the diverse people who comprise it are properly represented and presented. Her profound, visionary, and anti-essentialist artwork dismantles stereotypical mainstream imagery that seeks to promote a very one-sided perspective and single-story narrative of the Black community.

To view Sha's work, visit her website: http://richmethods.work.

Dawn Okoro | @dawnokoro

Photo: Dawn Okoro

A Nigerian-American artist extraordinaire Dawn Okoro and her innovative artwork ushers in a limitless Black radical imagination and future that defies ontological and restrictive Black identity and gender politics. Based in Austin, Texas, Okoro received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and her law degree from Texas Southern University. Inspired by fashion, illustration, photography, and design, her work has been featured in Oxford American and Drawing Magazines and has been shown at the Texas Biennial, New York University, Notre Dame University, MoCADA Museum, and the Curtiss Jacobs Gallery in Harlem.

Photo Credit: Dawn Okoro's "Punk Noir" exhibition | Images reposted with permission by Dawn Okoro

Her latest exhibition "Punk Noir" features large-scale paintings and wearable art that highlights the punk, or Afropunk, spirit. Influenced by artists and photographers such as Barkley Hendrix, Richard Avedon, and Andy Warhol, Okoro's art "explores the idea of black people presenting truthfully, unabashed, and resisting societal expectations." Drawing inspiration and influence from her Nigerian Igbo heritage by using West African photo-writing traditions among the Akan peoples of Ghana and nsibidi and uli, known as andinkra, in her work. Most of the subjects featured in her exhibition are Austin-based writers, musicians, and artists.

To view Dawn's work, visit her website: https://okorostudio.com.

Adele Supreme | @adelesupreme

Photo: Adele Supreme

Adele "Supreme" Williams is not just an artist –– she, herself is art, physically and spiritually manifested. Inspired by her imagination and everyday observations, she describes her art and illustrations –– in particular, her comics –– as "silly coupled with cerebral." Born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles, her renown and eclectic work touches on an array of subjects including sex, love, life, social media, and the intimate and even quirky thoughts everyone thinks but sometimes are too fearful and even embarrassed to say out loud. Williams' relatability and satire in her comics is not only influenced by self-introspection and her compassion for others, but also her desire to depict Black women and people beyond stringent ideals and representations by "showing the vengeful, soft, drunk, regretful, confused, silly, horny, self-conscious, curious, explorative, sneaky, smart and sweet side of Black women."

Photo Credits: Adele Supreme | Images reposted with permission by Adele Supreme

Challenging people to be authentically themselves and to embrace who they are in their entirety, Williams' first solo exhibit, "The Pretty Nasty Imagination of Adele Supreme," debuted in 2016 and traveled to various cities including Miami, Columbus, Los Angeles and Chicago. Also in 2016, Amazon debuted Williams' "Oh my God, Yes! A Series of extremely relatable circumstances" which will be adapted into animated series. She is also the author of her first children's book titled "My Hair Grows Up."

To view Adele's work, visit her website: https://www.adelewashere.com.

Giselle Buchanan | @vishuddha

Photo: Giselle Buchanan

Giselle Buchanan is truly a goddess of all trades. A multidisciplinary artist, poet, and writer from the Bronx, New York, her work not just only emphasizes artistic aesthetics but integrates holistic and restorative healing and justice. Currently residing in Brooklyn as a community activist and organizer, Buchanan has integrated her art and activism as a therapeutic agent, working with women, incarcerated men on Rikers Island, and children in East Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. She has partnered and worked with several organizations, including the Bronx Museum, Harlem Textile works, and New York Writers Coalition, she also leads and facilitates workshops and programs that encourage, empower, and cultivate creative expression and artistic talents of marginalized and underserved students.

Photo Credits: Giselle Buchanan | Images reposted with permission by Giselle Buchanan

With artistic and political areas of interests, including rehabilitation and the arts; holistic healing and power of expression; community art and expression; Womanism; race, gender, and class; social justice and more, she has performed and hosted workshops at the Apollo Theater, the Chicago Theater, Housing Works Bookstore, MoCADA Museum, and Tufts University. Her writings and poetry have been featured in Hanging Loose magazine and media outlets. Her zine, "A Love Letter to Self" was published in 2017.

To view Giselle's work, visit her website: https://www.gisellebuchanan.com.

Adee Roberson | @adeeroberson

Photo: Adee Roberson

Adee Roberson's artistry not only embodies and evokes emotion –– her work constantly entices the viewer to know and want more. Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, Roberson's work speaks to and embodies the vibrancy of Black women –– in all their various shapes, frames, forms, evolutions, fludities, and identities. Using bright colors, bold shapes, and beautiful images of Black women in her art, her work "weaves sonic and familial archives, with landscape, technicolor, rhythm, form and spirit."

Photo Credits: Adee Roberson | Images reposted with permission by Adee Roberson

Currently based in Los Angeles, California, Roberson's use of familial archives elicits a fictive connection and kinship and allows the viewer to see their families, their friends, their community members, and even themselves in her timeless and awe-inspiring artistry. She has exhibited and performed at numerous venues, including Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Charlie James Gallery, Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, MOCA Los Angeles, and Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario.

To view Adee's work, visit their website: http://www.adeeroberson.com.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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