Black History Month: Visual arts

Creativity is part of our everyday lives. It’s our passion, our raison d’être. For Black History Month, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate this community’s rich artistic and creative heritage. Every week in February, we’ll honour the work of Black creators in fields that are near and dear to our hearts, kicking thing off with visual arts, followed by literature, technology, then architecture.

It is in our nature to praise and applaud the advancements and creations of great pioneers, groundbreakers, and revolutionaries. These creatives are never comfortable with the status quo, which motivates them to push the limits of formats and mediums, as well as the boundaries of their respective fields. Through their work, not only do they help the arts to progress, but they most importantly help society move forward, both in North America and around the world.

Let’s take advantage of Black History Month to soak in new colours, patterns and perspectives that can inspire us. Broadening our horizons, listening and understanding are what will allow us, as a community and as individuals, to grow and push our own boundaries.

Together, let’s work to tear down biases and overcome the algorithms. Let’s all celebrate the contributions of these great creatives.

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis’s sculptures were an answer to the formal qualities of the era and to neoclassical trends, while the symbolism in her work stood out from bourgeois art in the 19th century. The way she explored themes like religion, the Civil War, African American emancipation, and First Nations contributed to her fame during her lifetime, and her legacy after her death.

Henry Ossawa Tanner

After completing his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts — where he was the only Black student — Henry Ossawa Tanner enjoyed an international career painting vast landscapes and biblical pieces. Tanner’s impact on American art was only recognized after his death. In 1969, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. devoted the very first major exhibit dedicated to the work of a Black artist in the United States to Tanner.

Faith Ringgold

For over five decades, Faith Ringgold was devoted to calling into question the way African American identity and gender were perceived in the United States. Born in Harlem during the New York neighbourhood’s renaissance, her art cogently combines history, politics, and her own experience as an African American woman, artist and activist.

Kerry James Marshal

Kerry James Marshall’s artistic approach is best encapsulated in his intention to question the systematic omission of Black art and aestheticism in the canon of western art history. Marshall owes his lasting legacy to his large-scale realist portraits, as well as to his unique way of integrating different motifs and textures into his work.

Nina Chanel Abney

Nina Chanel Abney’s art is distinctly unique thanks to her use of bright colours, imposing shapes and fragmented narratives to create pieces that are both easily accessible and difficult to take in. Abney frankly addresses the themes of race, politics, celebrity, sex and gender through her contemporary and realist lens.

See you on February 8th for this series’ second article that will be showcasing the great legacy of five Black creatives in the field of literature.