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American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 19 February 1946, in Washington DC.

Painter, sculptor, draughtsman, engraver, photographer, video artist, glassmaker, decorative designer. Theatre design.

AfriCobra Group.

Akili Ron Anderson attended the Corcoran School of Art and Howard University in Washington DC where he lives and works. He is a member of AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) founded in ...

Article

Camara Dia Holloway

[Smikle, David Edward]

(b Queens, NY, Nov 25, 1953).

African American photographer. Bey was born and raised in the neighborhood of Jamaica, in Queens, New York City. His interest in photography was cemented by viewing the now infamous exhibition, Harlem on My Mind, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969. He studied at the School of Visual Arts during 1976–8, later earning his BFA from Empire State College, State University of New York in 1990, followed by his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1993.

Bey launched his career in 1975 with the Harlem, USA series, following in the footsteps of street photographers who found the predominantly African American community a compelling subject. This series of black-and-white portraits became the subject of Bey’s first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

During the 1980s, Bey continued making portraits expanding his terrain beyond Harlem. Sensitive to the politics of representing African Americans, he developed strategies to equalize the photographic encounter. Bey began using a large-format view camera on a tripod that he set up in the street. He established a dialogue with his sitters and gifted them with a print of their portrait. This was facilitated by his discovery of 4×5 Polaroid positive/negative Type 55 film that yielded virtually instant prints....

Article

Mary M. Tinti

(b Colgate, Jamaica, Oct 16, 1960).

African American photographer of Jamaican birth. Although born in Jamaica, Cox was raised in an upper–middle-class neighborhood in Scarsdale, NY. Interested in both film and photography, Cox favored the latter for its immediacy and began her study of the craft while at Syracuse University. After a brief stint as a fashion photographer, Cox received her MFA from the New York School of Visual Arts in 1992 and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program from 1992–3.

Cox became a household name in 2001 when New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani took great offense at Yo Mama’s Last Supper (1996), a controversial photographic reinterpretation of Leonardo’s Last Supper, unveiled at the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers. (The photo featured a nude Cox, with arms outstretched, flanked by 11 black, dreadlocked apostles and a white Judas.) Outraged at the image’s supposedly irreverent, anti-Catholic overtones, Giuliani called for a special commission on decency to oversee organizations whose exhibitions benefited from public funds. The subsequent media frenzy earned Cox (who was raised Catholic) much publicity in the popular press, which in turn brought new critical attention to her works....

Article

James Smalls

(b New York, NY, Dec 9, 1919; d New York, NY, Oct 27, 2009).

American photographer and teacher. A central figure in post-war American photography, DeCarava strongly believed ‘in the power of art to illuminate and transform our lives’. Using Harlem as his subject, DeCarava created groundbreaking pictures of everyday life in that enclave of New York. He is also known for scenes of civil rights protests of the early 1960s, images of jazz musicians, and lyrical studies of nature.

DeCarava studied painting and printmaking at the Cooper Union School of Art, the Harlem Community Art Center, and the George Washington Art School. He took up photography in the late 1940s and quickly mastered its vocabulary. In 1952, DeCarava won a Guggenheim Fellowship—the first awarded to an African American photographer. The scholarship allowed him to spend a year photographing daily life in Harlem. These pictures brought a new moderation and intimacy to the photographing of African Americans and their social environment. Perhaps his most memorable photographs were those that appeared in the book ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1959, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Installation artist, video artist, film maker.

Identity Art.

Renée Green attended the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1980, and received a BA from Wesleyan University in 1981. She has taught at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna (...

Article

Catherine M. Grant and Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Cleveland, OH, 1959).

American printmaker, film maker, installation and conceptual artist and writer.

Green, of African descent, has worked primarily with film-based media, and has published criticism and designed installations that reveal her commitment to ongoing feminist and black empowerment movements. She earned her BA from Wesleyan University in 1981 and also spent some time at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1980, returning in the late 1980s to study in the Whitney Independent Study Program, graduating in 1990. At the age of 24 she began exhibiting her comparative compositions containing found objects, images, and texts that question recorded history.

Green’s work deals with issues of anthropology and travel. By undertaking projects via the methodology of the 19th-century explorer, she exposed the arbitrary and prejudiced nature of classification, as in Bequest (1991; see 1993 exh. cat.), an installation she made at the invitation of the Worcester Museum of Art to commemorate their 50th anniversary. Using the museum as a ready-made stage set, she installed works of art alongside 19th-century texts explaining stereotypes of whiteness and blackness. Green characteristically intervened in the history of her chosen site to produce a fiction that included her own responses as an African American woman to her findings. In ...

Article

James Smalls

(b Bronx, New York, 1965).

African American photographer. Harris is best known for his dramatically staged self-portraits (in which he performs roles of the opposite gender or race) and photographs of his family members and friends. His works are conceptually and theoretically informed by elements of history and an awareness of the concerns of feminist, gay and lesbian, and postcolonial discourses.

Harris graduated with an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1990. He studied at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York in 1991 and in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at both the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, the Kunsthalle, Basel, and the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva.

In most of his photographs, Harris uses his own body as a conduit through which he poses questions and brings up issues around race, gender, and sexuality. In them, Harris assumes a variety of poses and roles—as boxer, ballerina, Billie Holiday, diva or gangster. As such, his photographs constitute investigations into the incoherencies of accepted and acceptable identities....

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1960, in Brooklyn (New York City).

Engraver, photographer, mixed media, installation artist.

Conceptual Art, Identity Art.

Lorna Simpson studied at the University of San Diego and then at the New York School of Visual Arts. She started out as a photo-journalist and her work has retained a connection between the photograph and text. She is an African American artist who works from texts and photographs and sometimes makes sound installations. She portrays the black female body and questions the usual stereotypes, as in the series ...

Article

Anne K. Swartz

(b Brooklyn, NY, Aug 13, 1960).

African American photographer and multimedia artist. Simpson attended the High School of Art and Design then received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York City in 1982 and her MFA in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego in 1985. She focused on photography for both degrees. While still in graduate school she started complicating the presumed transparency of photography, experimenting with the clarity of the narrative, the deconstruction of narrative as associated with photography and an investigation of the transparency of photography. She would incorporate images of a figure turned away from the viewer alongside text that commented on the experience of women of colour in the patriarchy, as evidenced in The Waterbearer (1996; New York, Sean and Mary Kelly col.). A lone female figure pours water from two containers and the text at the bottom proclaims, ‘She Saw Him Disappear By The River, They Asked Her To Tell What Happened, Only To Discount Her Memory’, as an indication of the way the woman’s voice and experience is disregarded....

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1953, in Portland Oregon.

Installation artist, photographer, video artist.

Identity Art.

Carrie Mae Weems studied at the University of California in San Diego and then at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. She received an honorary degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland (California). She has documented the African American experience weaving together jokes, music and storytelling with photographic imagery. Much of her work involves adapting her own photographs and historical images of African Americans by adding text evoking themes of family relationships, gender roles and the histories of racism, sexism, and class. For instance, in her series ...

Article

Mary Chou

(b Portland, OR, April 20, 1953).

American photographer . Weems earned a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1981 and a MFA from the University of California, San Diego, in 1984. From 1984 to 1987 she pursued graduate studies in folklore at the University of California, Berkeley. Weems is well known for integrating photographs, text and audio recordings in installations that explore themes of racism, gender, identity and family from a personal as well as cultural, national and historical perspective.

Weems’s first major work, Family Pictures and Stories (1978–84), is a family album with images of her relatives interspersed with printed anecdotes and interviews that mines the history of her own family—sharecroppers who moved from Mississippi to Oregon in the early 1950s—as well as the language, relationships and history of African American families in general. In her subsequent series, Ain’t Jokin’ (1987–8), she superimposed racist jokes, riddles and epithets onto portraits of African Americans with wit and humour in order to provoke and confront viewers with their own prejudices and racist attitudes. Another series, ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 19 March 1948, in Philadelphia.

Photographer, installation artist.

Pat Ward Williams studied photography at the Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, then at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. She teaches at the University of California, Irvine, living and working in Long Beach. She sets together objects and photographs in installations which aim to expose the violence to which African American populations have been subjected since the age of slavery. Thus in ...

Article

Camara Dia Holloway

(b Philadelphia, PA, Feb 5, 1948).

American photographer, curator and scholar. Willis was born in North Philadelphia to a hairdresser mother and a policeman father who was an amateur photographer. Within a familial and communal context, Willis learned that photographs could function as powerful statements of African American identity. These ideas were reinforced by reading her family’s copy of the publication The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955) that featured the photographs of Roy DeCarava, a major African American photographer. She also attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, Harlem on My Mind in 1969. Willis earned a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1975 and an MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1979. Inspired by the quilting and storytelling traditions in her family, Willis developed a practice that combined her photographs, family photographs and other elements into autobiographical quilts. Her later works focused more on the female body.

From 1980 to 1992...