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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.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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