Black art matters. Each stroke of a paintbrush on canvas, sculpting of clay on a potter’s wheel, piece of stone that is chiseled, carved, and filed away from a larger block of stone for a sculpture, print that is drawn, etched or cut by a printmaker, have implications that go beyond the act of simply creating a product to be viewed or sold. Black artists and their art literally and metaphorically question a history of visibility, or rather, a history of invisibility. Black art removes the veil of invisibility that was placed on it due its possession of Blackness and reasserts itself as something that is worthy not only of visibility, but also meaning, acknowledgement, acceptance, and praise.
The existence and creation of Black art makes room for additional forms of representation. When Tamara Natalie Madden uses deep blues, blacks and purples to paint rich and dark-complexioned subjects in a way that conveys an inherent regality and beauty, those looking at the paintings, especially those with dark skin, are able to situate themselves within the paintings and find that they possess those same traits. Charlotte Riley-Webb’s abstract masterpieces highlight the intentionality, technicality, and talent that rest within Black hands. Lobyn Hamilton’s vinyl creations show that one’s frustration can lead to something that is both meaningful and valuable.
Black art also gives those who engage with it insight into the complexities of Black experiences, cultures, and history. Sean Haynes’ acrylic on wood piece titled Making Moves, for example, presents the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in an interesting way. While one might look at it and only notice the silhouettes and appreciate Haynes’ use of bright colors, they might not realize that Haynes is actually using his art to speak about the displacement of thousands of people because of the hurricane. Although Making Moves is an aesthetically beautiful piece, Haynes uses his position as an artist to highlight and allow room for the discussion of the larger issue of displacement that unfortunately hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Similarly, in his Negro Spirituals series of paintings, Aaron Henderson invites viewers to reflect on the violent history of slavery, racism, and white supremacy and the ways that they informed the Negro Spirituals that were sung centuries ago and still remain with us today. Artists like Haynes and Henderson effortlessly situate us in the past as a means of helping us to better understand and navigate through our present. The events, experiences, and histories that are interwoven into Black art provide viewers with a unique opportunity to learn more about Blackness, Black cultures, and Black history.
There is a certain level of diversity attached to the work of Black artists that allows us to reimagine the possibilities of fine art. If we are going to praise Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackson Pollack for their contribution to fine art, then we must also recognize, appreciate and praise Black artists like Aaron Henderson, Jerry Lynn, Charly Palmer, Georgette Baker, and E. Richard Clark.
We are constantly encouraging those who come to ZuCot to buy something that means something. Black art means something, and just like Black lives, Black art matters.