Category: Arts / Style

Tyra Banks aka BanX Launches Mini-Series “Beauty” via Quibi to Promote Body Positivity

Tyra Banks (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

Tyra Banks has announced plans to executive produce and star in a multi-part docu-series called “Beauty,” according to People.

The new show is set to premiere on Quibi, an entertainment platform built for mobile viewing spearheaded by former DreamWorks and Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and launches in April 2020.

According to a press release, “Beauty” aims to “break down barriers” and “challenge traditional notions” of attractiveness, all while serving up a thought-provoking viewer experience.

Banks has always been about supporting non-traditional beauties, such as plus-size models, and she often posts motivational messages on social media.

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In May, Banks announced her decision to go by the name “BanX” during her latest Sports Illustrated cover story. The new moniker signifies her rebirth in the modeling scene after exiting in 2005 and “X-ing out cookie-cutter beauty,” the star told SI.

New Basquiat Exhibit at Guggenheim in NY to Center His Cultural Activism and Identity

Jean-Michel Basquiat Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983 Acrylic and marker on wood, framed, 63.5 x 77.5 cm Collection of Nina Clemente, New York © Estate of Jean-Michael Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar Photo: Allison Chipak © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2018

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

An exhibition of rarely-seen work by famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat will be on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from June 21 to November 6 this year.

The Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story exhibition will be supplemented with work by other artists of Basquiat’s generation and will explore a formative chapter in the artist’s career and the role of cultural activism in New York City during the early 1980s.

The exhibition takes as its starting point the painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), created by Basquiat in 1983 to commemorate the fate of the young, Black artist Michael Stewart at the hands of New York City transit police after allegedly tagging a wall in an East Village subway station.

Originally painted on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio, Defacement was not meant to be seen widely and has rarely been exhibited in a public context. With approximately twenty paintings and works on paper by Basquiat and his contemporaries, this presentation around Defacement will examine Basquiat’s exploration of Black identity, his protest against police brutality, and his attempts to craft a singular aesthetic language of empowerment.

The works on view by Basquiat will further illustrate his engagement with state authority as well as demonstrate his adaptation of crowns as symbols for the canonization of historical Black figures. Also featured will be archival material related to Stewart’s death, including diaries and protest posters, along with samples of artwork from Stewart’s estate.

Paintings and prints made by other artists in response to Stewart’s death and the subsequent criminal trial of the police officers charged in his killing to be presented include Haring’s Michael Stewart—U.S.A. for Africa (1985); Andy Warhol’s screenprinted “headline” paintings from 1983 incorporating a New York Daily News article on Stewart’s death; David Hammons’s stenciled print titled The Man Nobody Killed (1986), and Lyle Ashton Harris’s photographic portrait Saint Michael Stewart (1994), all of which are testaments to the solidarity among artists at the time and the years following.

To learn more: https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/basquiats-defacement-the-untold-story

Author Toni Morrison and Curator Thelma Golden to Receive 2019 Awards from American Academy of Arts and Letters

Toni Morrison and Thelma Golden (photos via artsandletters.org)

The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced the recipients of its highest honors for excellence in the arts, to be presented at its annual ceremony in May. Toni Morrison will be awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction. The Gold Medal is awarded to those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work.

Thelma Golden will be recognized with the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts for her significant contribution as Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Sculptor Lee Bontecou will also be honored this year.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members included Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.

In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country. This year’s total expenditures on awards and grants will be $1.2 million. Continue reading “Author Toni Morrison and Curator Thelma Golden to Receive 2019 Awards from American Academy of Arts and Letters”

Gucci and Dapper Dan Announce $5M Changemakers Initiative Aimed at Diversity and Inclusion

Since being under fire for its balaclava sweater that resembled blackface, luxury brand Gucci is attempting to redeem itself. According to harpersbazaar.com, the Italian fashion house has announced a new global program and scholarship fund called Gucci Changemakers that will promote diversity and inclusion throughout the company with a multi-step action plan.

The program includes three tiers: the Gucci Changemakers Fund, a scholarship program, and a company-wide volunteering initiative. All three programs intend to foster racial diversity within the company as well as the fashion industry as a whole. Legendary designer Dapper Dan, who launched a street style-themed collection for Gucci last year, has been working with Gucci to develop Changemakers. Dan took to Instagram yesterday to publicize these steps towards progress:

Time will tell if these actions will be enough to redeem the brand and establish true inclusion and equity, but with DeRay McKesson, will.i.am, writer/activist Brittany Packnett as part of the Changemakers Council as well, Gucci is at least setting itself up to be held accountable.

Crenshaw Boulevard to Break Ground on Mile-Long Artistic Tribute to Black History and Culture of Los Angeles

A rendering of views to the east from the upper level of the viewing deck at Sankofa Park, located where Crenshaw Boulevard and Leimert Boulevard split. (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

by Mike Roew via laist.com

When the Metro’s new Crenshaw/LAX line opens in summer 2020, riders will travel through a 1.3-mile-long art project celebrating Los Angeles’ African-American achievement.

“Destination Crenshaw” is set to break ground in early 2019, and will flank the route along Crenshaw Boulevard. Renderings were released earlier this month.

“The hope,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said, “is that [people] understand that L.A., among other things, is quintessentially a black city. In the same way that it’s a Latino city, in the same way it’s a Jewish city, in the same way that it’s a Japanese city. The stories of black people in this town are central to what this town is, and what it continues to develop into.”

Harris-Dawson called Destination Crenshaw an “open-air museum” that is set to feature monuments, art, park space, and other cultural experiences celebrating black Los Angeles. It’ll be one of the first stops for people taking the Metro from LAX, with clear views of the surrounding art.

An aerial rendering of Crenshaw Boulevard from the Hyde Park Station at Slauson Avenue (left) to Leimert Park (right) showing various Destination Crenshaw project element locations. (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

The inspiration for the project was the Crenshaw Wall, Harris-Dawson said. That’s the massive graffiti project that already stands in Crenshaw, which Harris-Dawson wants to see restored and enhanced.

“But also many of our artists that are in this community have art that you have to travel outside South L.A. to see,” Harris-Dawson said. “We wanted to create a space for them to show their work in their own neighborhoods.”

An open call went out for artists earlier this year, but another is planned for 2019.

The space will have more than 125 spots for art, according to Harris-Dawson, including 3D art, street art, fine art, and more. The art will tell stories curated by the project’s historian.

Even the parks will be part of telling the story.

“There may be a [play structure] there that may spell out the words, ‘say it loud,'” Harris-Dawson said. “So that’s a way in which, as a park, it is a functional tool, but it tells a story about political protest, and community confrontation, and African-American music in a direct way.”

Harris-Dawson hopes Destination Crenshaw will help bring back creative businesses and boost the local economy. “African-American culture is consumed by the world, in every corner of the world, but African-American neighborhoods have not necessarily been able to take advantage of that,” Harris-Dawson said.

“Whether it’s streetware and street fashion that is largely generated by young people in the Crenshaw neighborhood — they make a sneaker popular, and then you have to go to Melrose to get the sneaker. And the same is true for all forms of art,” he said.

Destination Crenshaw is set to open in spring 2020. They also have a public kickoff event planned for Feb. 8, 2019, where they hope to reveal a couple of the key artists contributing to the project, according to Harris-Dawson.

Here’s a promotional video from earlier this year:

Spelman College Receives $30M Donation from Trustee Ronda Stryker to Help Fund New Arts Center

via jbhe.com

Spelman College, the historically Black educational institution for women in Atlanta, has received a $30 million donation from trustee Ronda Stryker and her husband William Johnston, The gift is the largest from a living donor in the 137-year history of the college.

The gift will be used to help fund the construction of the Center for Innovation and the Arts on the Spelman campus. When completed the building will house all of the college’s arts programs – art, art history, curatorial studies, dance, digital media, documentary filmmaking, photography, music and theater – in a single building.

Spelman Trustee Ronda Stryker (photo via Crain’s Detroit Business)

Stryker has been a member of the college’s board of trustees for more than 20 years. She currently serves as vice chair.

In making the donation, Stryker stated: “As former educators who believe strongly in social justice, Bill and I have great appreciation for how Spelman provides a superior education for students that encourages them to be global change agents. Spelman alumnae are leaders across every field imaginable, breaking new ground, while tackling some of the world’s most challenging issues from health disparities to the digital divide. We are thrilled to support a building that will encourage students to master technology, innovation and the arts.”

Stryker is a board member at Stryker Corporation, a medical equipment company and vice chair of Greenleaf Trust, an investment banking firm.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/12/spelman-college-receives-largest-gift-from-a-living-donor-in-its-137-year-history/

Shea Moisture Founder Richelieu Dennis to Transform Madam C.J. Walker’s Estate into Training Center for Black Women Entrepreneurs

Richelieu Dennis; Villa Lewaro Estate (Photos via becauseofthemwecan.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

In this 100th year anniversary of its completion, the historic Villa Lewaro estate of the nation’s first self-made female millionaire and beauty pioneer, Madam C.J. Walker, has been purchased.

The New Voices Foundation, which helps women of color entrepreneurs achieve their vision through innovative leadership initiatives, will spearhead the stabilization of the structure and planning for future uses. The acquisition was facilitated by the Dennis Family, including entrepreneur, investor, and social impact innovator Richelieu Dennis, who once owned Shea Moisture and currently owns Essence Magazine.

The 28,000 square foot property is a historic residence that embodies the optimism and perseverance of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

“In the one hundred years since Madam Walker built her majestic home, Villa Lewaro, it has served as a landmark both to her own success and to her endeavor to create a space dedicated to the achievement and empowerment of African Americans,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its architectural significance, Madam Walker’s Villa Lewaro estate, named after her daughter (A’LElia WAlker RObinson), was once a social and cultural gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.

The home, which Madam Walker called her “dream of dreams,” was designed and completed 100-years ago by the first licensed Black architect in the state of New York and a founder of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Vertner Tandy.

Walker was the first person of color to own property in Irvington, close to Lyndhurst, a National Trust Historic Site. During the time it was built, Villa Lewaro was located on what was referred to as Millionaire’s Row and in an area that was also home to Rockefellers and Astors. Purchased in 1993, for the last 25 years Villa Lewaro served as the family home of Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and his wife Helena.

With a long admiration of Madam C.J. Walker, the Dennis family first reignited her cultural, entrepreneurial and hair care legacy through the acquisition of the Madam C.J. Walker brand in 2013 – when conversations to acquire Villa Lewaro also first began – and the brand’s subsequent relaunch on retail shelves in 2016 at Sephora.

“To be able to steward something so rich in our culture, history, legacy and achievement through the New Voices Foundation and guide it into its next phase of impact and inspiration is an incredible honor that my family and I welcome with tremendous responsibility and humility,” said Dennis. “When we relaunched the Madam C.J. Walker brand two and half years ago, our goal was to give the brand back to our community and elevate it in the iconic way deserving of such a phenomenal woman. Today, we have a similar focus with Villa Lewaro as its significance is much greater than just a house or property or historic landmark. It is a place where – against all odds – dreams were formed, visions were realized and entrepreneurs were born, and we look forward to returning its use to support that mission.”

Dennis continued, “Squarely aligned with the mission of the New Voices Foundation, we are excited to announce that the vision for future use of the property includes utilizing Villa Lewaro as both a physical and virtual destination where women of color entrepreneurs will come for curriculum-based learning and other resources aimed at helping them build, grow and expand their businesses. When people think of entrepreneurship services for women of color, we want them to think of the New Voices Foundation and Villa Lewaro.”

Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and biographer, as well as brand historian, A’Lelia Bundles, added, “No one at the time believed that a Black woman could afford such a place. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate Villa Lewaro’s 100th anniversary than the vision of the New Voices Foundation and the Dennis family for this historic treasure as a place to inspire today’s entrepreneurs, tomorrow’s leaders and our entire community. Richelieu’s own success story – from a humble family recipe to an international enterprise with an economic empowerment mission – very much mirrors Madam Walker’s journey of empowering and uplifting women. Just as Madam Walker aided in the preservation of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s Washington, DC home, the Dennis family continues this tradition of preserving historic sites that raise awareness about the contributions people of color have made to the American narrative.”

The National Trust holds a perpetual preservation easement on Villa Lewaro that ensures the property’s historic character will be preserved. This easement was jointly supported by the Dennis and the Doley families. The home was named a National Treasure by the National Trust in 2014 and is part of a growing portfolio of African American historic sites protected through the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, an initiative designed to raise the profile of African American sites of achievement, activism, architecture, and community.

Chicago Cultural Center Features Exhibition on African American Designers that Explore Art, Commerce and Politics of Race

A selection of materials from Charles Dawson: an advertisement for Slick Black, O Sing a New Song, plus Together for Victory by an unknown designer. (Composite: James Prinz Photography, Chicago)

by  via theguardian.com

The first known African American female cartoonist was Jackie Ormes, who not only penned cartoon strips throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but designed a black doll called the Patty-Jo doll, which was released in 1947.

The Patty-Jo doll by Jackie Ormes. (Photograph: Courtesy of Nancy Goldstein)

Patty-Jo, a precursor to Barbie, which came in 1959, was based on a cartoon strip character of the same name, had an extensive wardrobe with preppy shoes, winter coats and ball gowns – and had the brains to go with it.

In a cartoon strip from 1948, Patty-Jo asks a white woman: “How’s about getting our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over so we can be trained fit for any college?”

The doll is on view in a new exhibition in Chicago, African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Featuring more than 50 design works, it highlights prominent black figures who worked between 1900 and 1980 in graphic design, editorial and product design, billboard ads, and created the first black-founded ad agency.

The seeds of the exhibit were planted in the 1990s, when University of Illinois professor Victor Margolin started to explore a gap in the history of American design.

“Margolin was one of the first scholars who asked why there has been a lack of scholarship on African American designers,” said the exhibition curator Daniel Schulman. “He went into the field and interviewed 25 designers who were active from 1930s to 1980s, many of which are in the exhibit.”

With a focus exclusively on Chicago designers, it highlights artists who shaped the look of black publications like the Chicago Defender and the Johnson publishing house, founded in 1942 by African American business mogul John H. Johnson, which founded Jet and Ebony magazines alongside the now-defunct Black World, Ebony Man and Black Stars.

“Our thesis is that Chicago is a special center for design for African Americans because it was one of the major sites in the north they came to from the rural south in mid-20th century,” said Schulman. “It has a large, vibrant and politically powerful design community.”

Among the works in the exhibit is an original Patty-Jo doll designed and produced by Ormes, who was a cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier, though she lived in Chicago. The doll, in a yellow dress, was highly coveted by African American girls, though it was so expensive, parents had to pay in instalments.

“The doll was noteworthy for its quality. Its facial features were hand-painted and designed from life-like materials,” said Schulman. “It was a role model for any child.”

It ties into the cartoons Ormes built around the Patty-Jo character. “She was a beautiful fictional character who was known for making witty, astute remarks about the world around African American middle-class people in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Schulman. “The doll was in production for 10 years, it had an extraordinary presence and power, and today, they’re collectibles holding an importance place in American doll-making.”

Among the other designers in the exhibit, there are advertisements by Charles C. Dawson, who designed the graphics promoting Slick Black, black hair color tins from the 1930. Dawson was also part of the New Negro art movement, which surfaced around the same time as the Harlem Renaissance black arts movement in New York.

In 1971, the first African American-owned advertising agency was co-founded by Emmett McBain and Thomas J. Burrell. Burrell McBain Advertising boasted clients such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

“It was enormously important,” said Schulman. “It was one of first black-owned firms to land major national accounts like cigarette manufacturers and campaigns for companies that included African Americans in mainstream roles on TV and in magazines, which brought their image to a broader public. It was a new and powerful conception of black commercial, political and social power.”

A 1963 issue of Ebony, with Frederick Douglass on the cover. (Photograph: James Prinz Photography)

“Instead of having contemporary life portrayed with celebrities or ordinary people, this cover looks back on 100 years of the emancipation proclamation,” said Schulman. “It shows Ebony engaged with civil rights.”

Also on view is a comic called “Home Folks” by Jay Jackson, a cartoonist for the Chicago Defender who won several awards for his cartoons made during the second world war. A panel on view called Debt and Taxes shows one character complaining: “What do they mean ‘income tax’? It should be ‘outgo’ tax!”

“It’s a masterpiece,” said Schulman. “It shows young, middle-class African Americans in a wonderful mid-century modern interior talking about how expensive things are, the dream of prosperity that was commonplace as a selling technique in the 1950s, this mass consumer market and postwar prosperity. In popular media, you don’t always see African Americans taking part of a stream of plenty in the 1950s.”

But ambition aside, it was tough for African Americans to break into the advertising industry, not to mention navigating the office culture once they were there. “It’s really about working in a field with so few African Americans designers in it,” said Schulman. “There are images that show how frustrating it could be in such a tiny minority in this field – there is one image of Eugene Winslow in his office with commentary that shows he was unhappy being a supervisor of an all-white staff who did not appreciate having a black supervisor.”

Though this showcase of pre-digital design ends in the year 1980, it still is a triumph, especially considering many ephemeral pieces of graphic design from the past were lost.

“It’s not an encyclopedia, it’s an introduction,” said Schulman. “What we’re trying to demonstrate here is the lasting influence and effectiveness of the visual arts and design throughout the 20th century in Chicago.”

African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Raceis on display at the Chicago Cultural Center until March 3, 2019.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/08/black-design-chicago-art-commerce-politics-race?CMP=share_btn_link

Betye Saar, 92, Artist Who Helped Spark Black Women’s Movement Has “Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean” Exhibit Opening in NY on November 2

Betye Saar – “Supreme Quality” (Photograph: Kris Walters/Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA)

by Nadja Sayej via theguardian.com

In 1972, a black cultural center in Berkeley, California, put out a call for artists to help create an exhibit themed around black heroes. One African American contemporary artist, Betye Saar, answered. She created an artwork from a “mammy” doll and armed it with a rifle.

Betye Saar (photo via dailybruin.com)

According to Angela Davis, a Black Panther activist, the piece by Saar, titled “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” sparked the black women’s movement. Now, the artist’s legacy is going on view in New York with “Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean,” an exhibit opening on November 2nd at the New York Historical Society, featuring 24 artworks made between 1997 and 2017 from her continuing series incorporating washboards. The exhibit runs until May 27, 2019.

“Saar says that it’s about keeping everything clean, keeping politics clean, keeping your life clean, your actions clean,” said Wendy Ikemoto, the society’s associate curator of American art. “She wants America to clean up its act and a lot of her art has to do with this idea that we haven’t cleaned up our act.”

Saar, 92, was born in Los Angeles and turned to making political art after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “After his assassination in 1968, her work became explicitly political,” said Ikemoto. “That’s when she started collecting these racist, Jim Crow figurines and incorporated them in her assemblages.”

Betye Saar – “Dark Times” (Photograph: Robert Wedemeyer/Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles)

Saar was part of the black arts movement, the cultural – often literary – arm of the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s; she was also among so-called second wave feminists. But she still found herself at a crossroads. “The black arts movement was male-dominated and the feminist movement was white-dominated,” Ikemoto said. “Being at the intersection of both movements, she became one of the most prominent black female artists for presenting strong, recognized women who are fighting off the legacy of slavery. I think it did open doors for other artists to follow.”

This traveling exhibit, from the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, shows Saar’s consistent message through her washboard series. “Many of her works tackle the broad issue of revisioning derogatory stereotypes to agents of change, historical change and power,” said Ikemoto. “Many artworks feature descendants of Aunt Jemima and mammy figures armed to face the racist histories of our nation.”

The exhibit includes “Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroines,” a washboard piece Saar made in 2017 that features a mammy doll holding a pair of guns. The washboards are used in lieu of canvases and are loaded with symbolism.

“The washboard becomes her frame for the art, it’s the star,” said Ikemoto. “It’s the structure of black labor and she is moving it from a space of invisibility to highlight it. She is also using this humble object of hard labor to subvert notions of fine art.”

Each washboard is like a puzzle to be decoded, filled with small details that reference American history. There are Black Panther fists, references to police brutality and phrases from the Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes.

There are also references to Memphis, the city where King was assassinated, and to the Congolese slaves who were killed under the Congo Free State. Some washboards include phrases such as “national racism”.

“It’s as if Saar is suggesting how racism is so entrenched in our nation that it has become a national brand,” said Ikemoto. “She takes something that is a sign of oppression and violence, something pejorative and derogatory, and transforms it into something revolutionary.”

Not all of the artworks are on washboards, however. One piece from 1997, “We Was Mostly ’Bout Survival,” is on an ironing board, emblazoned with an image of a British slave ship.

“I think this exhibition is essential right now,” said Ikemoto. “I hope it encourages dialogue about history and our nation today, the racial relations and problems we still need to confront in the 21st century.”

More: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/30/betye-saar-art-exhibit-racism-new-york-historical-society

Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery Debuts “Posing Modernity,” an Exhibition on The Evolution of Black Women Models in Art

Frédéric Bazille – Young Woman with Peonies, 1870. (Photograph: National Gallery of Art/Image courtesy National Gallery of Art)

by  via theguardian.com

In 1863, the French artist Édouard Manet painted Olympia, a reclining nude prostitute, shedding a scandalous light on Parisian brothel culture. But while much of the attention has been on the white model in the painting, Victorine Meurent, the black model beside her, Laure, has been largely overlooked by art historians.

Curator Denise Murrell (photo via 92y.org)

“People have told me, ‘It’s not that I didn’t see the black maid in the painting, I just didn’t know what to say about her’,” said the curator Denise Murrell. “I always felt she is presented in a more stronger light than maids usually are, and I wondered what could be said about her, even though art history said very little.”

This one painting then sparked the exhibition which Murrell has curated, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, opening at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery in New York on October 24th.

From photography to painting and sculpture, as well as film and print correspondence, this exhibit traces how the black figure has been key to the development of modern art over the past 150 years. Many of the artists here bring to light much of what art history has ignored.

“I’m looking for angles that are more relevant than just the standard narrative of the art world,” said Murrell. “I’m giving a number of different narratives that can be discussed around the black figure; there is a wider variety of black models, especially the black female figure, in broader, social roles.”

Henri Matisse, Dame à la robe blanche (Woman in white),1946. (Photograph: Courtesy of Des Moines Art Center)

Among the artists in the exhibit, there are works by Henri Matisse, including “Dame à la robe blanche (Woman in white),” from 1946, showing a black model in a white dress. The painting was made after the artist’s visit to Harlem in the 1930s, where he met local artists as part of the Harlem Renaissance, a black arts movement which celebrated African American culture.

Laura Wheeler Waring, one member of the group, was a painter who made portraits of African American civil rights figures, like author W.E.B. Du Bois and singer Marian Anderson.

“It shows the historical weight and significance of what Harlem artists were doing at the time,” said Murrell. “African American slavery or enslaved individuals were stereotyped and caricatured, and one thing Harlem Renaissance artists wanted to do was give dignity to black female figures, or to black figures, period.”

The other Harlem Renaissance painters in the exhibit include William H. Johnson, who captured the everyday lives of African Americans, whether it was groups of friends in urban settings to rural families, all of which tell “the critical story of modern portrayals of black figures”, said Murrell.

There are also works by Charles Alston, who was known locally for painting murals in Harlem hospitals, but was also recognized as a painter for his portraits of musicians, groups of cotton workers and family portraits. Alston is widely recognized for his bust of Martin Luther King Jr., which today sits in the White House. “He shows African Americans as the urban middle class,” said Murrell. “All aspects of life, high and low, are captured in his paintings.”

The more recent artworks in the exhibit, made over the past 50 years, are different from those, say, 100 years ago. “It’s more empowered because we now have a presence, artists of color,” she said. “You have black portraits by black artists, which broadens the range of artistic styles and strategies.”

Mickalene Thomas – Din, une très belle négresse, 2012. (Photograph: shootArt Mobile/Courtesy of the artist)

There are paintings by female artists such as Mickalene Thomas, who recently captured Cardi B for the cover of W Magazine’s art issue. In “Din, une très belle négresse,” from 2012, is a portrait of a black woman painted colorfully in retro garb.

“She takes 19th-century black women portrayals, but shows them in expressive ways, with rhinestones, afro wigs and a 1970s look,” said Murrell. “They’re women portrayed as sensual but in control of their sensuality, in a manner that shows a black woman who wants to be herself.

“And it’s not just black women, but women period, as sensual but in control of their sensuality and not just for the gaze of the presumed viewer, the white male,” adds Murrell, “You see that perspective unfolding to a more diverse group of artists and subjects of art.”

The exhibit features works by black female artists like Faith Ringgold, known for her quilts portraying black figures like Aunt Jemima, alongside Ellen Gallagher, who has cut up old advertisements of black women to offer her own perspective.

“You can see the evolution as the black figure comes closer to subjectivity, or agency, portrayed by women artists,” said Murrell, “or by showing black women in a way that’s closer to their own modes of self-representation.”

Though the black female figure in art has changed over the past 150 years, there is still progress to be made ahead. “There’s still an underrepresentation of black women artists, and black artists, in the contemporary art world,” said Murrell.

The exhibit is complete in one way, but incomplete in another. “I hope it gives a sense of history to the kind of art we look at today,” said Murrell. “There was a black presence in modern art, we see that in this show and I hope we start seeing more of it.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/22/matisse-to-modernity-the-evolution-of-black-female-models-in-art