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Article

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

Naomi Beckwith

(b Fulton, MO, Feb 4, 1959).

American sculptor and multimedia artist working in fibre, installation, video, and performance. The youngest of seven sons born into a central Missouri family, Cave demonstrated an early acumen with hand-made objects and throughout his career has created works out of texturally rich materials imbued with cultural meaning. Cave received his BFA (1982) from the Kansas City Art Institute, developing an interest in textiles and, after some graduate-level work at North Texas State University, received his MFA (1989) from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, renowned for their textile, fibre art, and design programmes. While working toward his art degrees, Cave simultaneously studied with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, a company known for introducing African American folk traditions into the modern dance vocabulary. Cave moved to Chicago where he became chair of the Department of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute in 1980.

Working across the disciplines of sculpture, textile, dance, and cultural performance, Cave’s oeuvre is based on the human figure; he has produced wearable art as sculptures, arrangements of human and animal figurines as installations, and performance works. Cave’s signature works, the multi-sensory ‘...

Article

James Smalls

(b Somerville, NJ, 1955).

African American sculptor, printmaker, and conceptual artist. He grew up in New Jersey and attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League of New York City. Cole is best known for assembling and transforming ordinary domestic objects, such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes, lawn jockeys, hair dryers, bicycle parts and other discarded appliances and hardware into imaginative and powerful configurations and installations embedded with references to the African American experience and inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture. Visual puns and verbal play characterized his works, thereby creating layered meanings. The objects he chose were often discarded mass-produced American products that had themselves acquired an alternate history through their previous handling and use.

In 1989, he became attracted to the motif of the steam iron both for its form and for its perceived embodiment of the experience and history of the unknown persons who had previously used it. He referred to the earliest versions of these irons as ‘Household Gods’ and ‘Domestic Demons’. With them, he engaged with ideas utilizing not only the found object but also the repetitive scorch mark of the iron arranged in either purely decorative patterns or in such ways as to suggest a face or African mask (...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 1947.

Painter, sculptor (including bronze), installation artist.

Houston Conwill studied at Howard University, Washington DC. He is based in New York. He won the Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Rome. The object of his work is to recreate the link between Afro-American culture, its African roots and the black diaspora around the world, as can be seen in ...

Article

Rebecca Zorach

(b Chicago, IL, Aug 28, 1973).

Multidisciplinary visual artist whose work combines performance, installation, and social practice. Gates grew up in a tight-knit African American family in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of the west side of Chicago, and graduated from the selective public high school Lane Tech. He studied urban planning and ceramics in college, receiving a BS in Community and Regional Planning in 1996 from Iowa State University. He went on to obtain an MA in Fine Arts and Religious Studies in 1998 from the University of Cape Town, South Africa; followed it with a residency in ceramics in Tokoname, Japan; and returned to Iowa State for his MS in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies in 2005. He began working in the early 2000s in an expanded ceramics practice that included conceptual performance using the invented Japanese ceramicist persona “Shoji Yamaguchi,” meals, music (with his performance ensemble, the Black Monks of Mississippi), poetry, and vernacular architecture that employed repurposed materials....

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

Morgan Falconer

(b Springfield, IL, 1943).

American installation artist, performance artist and sculptor. He studied in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art Institute and the Otis Art Institute before settling in New York in 1974. He first gained a reputation for his series of Body Prints in the early 1970s. Often resembling X-rays in their detail and translucency, they are direct imprints of the body made on paper with grease. Injustice Case (1973; Los Angeles, CA, Mus. Contemp. A.) is typical in dealing with a contemporary racial issue, with the American flag framing the image presented in opposition to cultural and racial stereotypes; see also African–American Flag, 1990. Contemporaneous with these were the Spade series, which featured garden spades as defiant metaphors for his race, appropriating a derogatory term used by prejudiced whites. These served as a prelude to the found-object sculptures he began to make in the late 1970s from cheap and discarded items such as elephant dung, Afro hair, chicken bones, bottles and bags. Hammons justified his use of such non-art materials which marked a reaction against what he saw as ‘clean’ art, by pointing to the precedents of Dada, Outsider art and Arte Povera. It was these works that brought him greatest recognition. ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1947.

Sculptor, lithographer, installation artist.

Minimal Art.

Maren Hassinger is an adjunct professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. She works with wire which she treats as she would textile. Her pieces, which she has described as 'kinetic', seem subjected to the elements and to behave in the way of plants, even set inside a gallery. This is her way of referring to an era when nature was not threatened by human activity and to the rural past of African Americans. She is the author of numerous open-air installations such as ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 1950, in New York.

Painter, draughtsman, installation artist. Multimedia.

Lee Jaffe lives in Venice California. His work is composed of various types of materials, he uses aesthetic images that reference different cultures or sub-cultures with socio-political connotations. His installation ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 1960, in the Bronx (New York City).

Painter, draughtsman, installation artist, engraver, lithographer.

Glenn Ligon earned art qualifications from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and the Wesleyan University, Middletown (Connecticut). He is based in New York. Ligon relies heavily on language, in his exploration of African American racial and cultural identity. He works from quotes found in Afro-American literature, the media and slaves' autobiographies. He may stencil them black on black or cover them in black paint or soot. At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, in ...

Article

Dennis Raverty

(b Birmingham, AL, Oct 17, 1955).

African American painter, writer, film production designer, and multimedia installation artist. Marshall’s works portray idealized subjects derived from African American experience in large-scale, multiple-figure paintings and installations that share many characteristics with European history painting in the “grand manner” of Peter Paul Rubens, Benjamin West, Jacques-Louis David, and the 19th-century academic tradition. This “high culture” Euro-American tradition is juxtaposed with elements of African American vernacular culture in order to reinsert African American subjects and aesthetics into the larger mainstream of America’s artistic and cultural history—a history from which, the artist believes, blacks have been largely excluded.

Marshall was born in Birmingham, AL, one of the most segregated cities in the United States at that time, and the site of civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s. He moved with his parents in 1963 to Nickerson Gardens public housing project in Watts, CA, just a few years before the riots there. Consequently, the struggles of the civil rights movement profoundly affected him and are a major theme in his mature work....

Article

Jordana Moore Saggese

African American painter, performance artist, mixed-media artist, and writer. Pindell studied painting at Boston University, where she received a BFA in 1965, and also attended Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she received an MFA in 1967. Throughout her career Pindell worked in and experimented with a variety of media, including painting, photography, text, printmaking, and video....

Article

James Smalls

(b New York, Sept 20, 1948).

African American conceptual and performance artist. Piper graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in painting and sculpture from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1969. While continuing to produce and exhibit her artwork, she received a BA in Philosophy from the City College of New York in 1974. During 1977–8, Piper studied Kant and Hegel at the University of Heidelberg and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1981. She taught philosophy at Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and the University of California, San Diego. Her principal publications have been in meta-ethics, Kantian metaphysics, and the history of ethics. These interests also influenced her art. In 1987 she became the first tenured African American woman professor in the field of philosophy at Wellesley College and, through numerous scholarly books and articles, began to present her ideas through performance art, photography, and video....

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1956, in Los Angeles.

Draughtswoman, installation artist, sculptor, engraver (including wood). Figures, animals.

Alison Saar studied at Scripps College, Claremont (California), and at the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles. She is Betye Saar's daughter. She dwells on themes of the African diaspora in installations and sculptures where her figures can assume the dimension of fetishes. She brings together found objects, string, dust, all sorts of materials which, within her constructions or assemblages, take on ritualistic connotations. Her work also reflects ironically the role of women in a patriarchal society....

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1953, in Los Angeles.

Painter (mixed media), assemblage artist. Portraits.

Lezley Saar studied at San Francisco State University, graduating with a BA in 1978. She is Betye Saar's daughter and Alison Saar's sister.

Painting in a style that recalls the work of Frida Kahlo, Saar evokes alienated characters, mostly women, who are excluded from society as a result of physical or psychological abnormalities. Painted on found objects such as books and old paintings from second-hand shops, her allegorical portraits dialogue with an assimilated past and in doing so attain a certain legitimacy. Her own mixed-race origins and her experience as the mother of an autistic child inform a number of her works ( ...

Article

Jordana Moore Saggese

(b Baltimore, MD, Nov 15, 1948).

African American sculptor, jeweller, printmaker, installation artist, performance artist, and poet . Daughter of the renowned quiltmaker Elizabeth Talford Scott (b 1914), she received a BFA in art education from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, in 1970 and her MFA from Institute Allende in Mexico in 1971. She also studied at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME. As a visual and performance artist, Scott is most noted for works that engage with both politics and popular culture. The signature of Scott’s visual work is the application of beads, which she frequently used in her sculptures, installations, and jewellery. Her predilection for a material typically associated with craft, rather than fine arts, was inspired in part by the handicraft traditions of African and African American cultures. Such traditions were very familiar to Scott as her maternal grandfather was a basket-maker and a blacksmith and her paternal grandfather was a woodworker; her mother and grandmother both made quilts as well. The use of beads also connects Scott to a broader history of art. For example, one can see the influence of Yoruba beadwork in her creation of objects that are both beautiful and functional. The work also extends beyond Africa to include many other cultures and communities—Native American, Czech, Mexican, and Russian—which all have beading traditions. Scott’s manipulation of so-called women’s arts (i.e. quilting, sewing, and beadwork) connects her to a longer tradition of black feminist artists including Betye Saar and Howardena Pindell. Even with these connections to personal, cultural, and artistic histories, however, Scott’s materials are unique in that the sparkling and seductive surfaces they create are integral to the artist’s desire to shock and to surprise her viewers....

Article

Annie Dell’Aria

(b New York, April 14, 1964).

African American sculptor and installation artist. Raised in New York City and upstate New York, Simmons earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1988 and his MFA from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1990. Studying at CalArts at the height of identity politics, Simmons became interested in cultural assumptions of his own African American identity. Following his graduate work, Simmons returned to New York and took up his practice in a studio space in a former school building. Simmons was primarily a sculptor when he first returned to New York, creating works such as Eraser Chair (1989; col. Blake Byrne, Los Angeles) and Six-X (1989; priv. col.), both of which address racial difference through the lens of childhood using schoolroom furniture. In his studio, Simmons became fascinated with the large rolling chalkboards around him, which led to the formal and aesthetic breakthrough that would inform much of his work for the next two decades....

Article

American, 20th–21st century, female.

Born 1960, in Brooklyn (New York).

Engraver, photographer, mixed media, installation artist.

Conceptual Art, Identity Art.

Lorna Simpson is an African American artist who combines texts and photographs of black women to explore the experience of African American women in contemporary society. The artist also makes sound installations.

Simpson studied at the University of San Diego and then at the New York School of Visual Arts. She began as a photo-journalist and her work has retained a connection between photograph and text. Simpson’s work portrays the black female body, and its frequent encounters with micro-aggressions and projected stereotypes of black female sexuality. In the series Guarded Conditions (1989–1990), which includes a photograph of a black woman dressed in a large nightshirt or cotton dress, the model is shown six times, while a text printed as a caption alternates the words ‘sex attack’ with the words ‘skin attacks’, inferring that the woman has been sexually attacked because of the colour of her skin and that the condition of being a black woman predisposes her to becoming a rape victim....

Article

Jenifer P. Borum

(b Pittsburgh, PA, 1958).

American painter and sculptor. Raised in the working-class East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, Stout was encouraged to make art by members of her family—her maternal uncle, a painter, and her grandfather, a blues musician. As a child, she took classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where she was introduced to African art, a significant formative experience for Stout, who would subsequently go on to engage the vernacular language of the African Diaspora in the Americas.

Stout earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980. After graduation, she worked in residency at the Afro-American Artists Residency at Northeastern University in Boston. After moving to Washington, DC, in 1985, she began the ongoing practice of mixed-media assemblage that was to become her mature work. By reclaiming objects and elements from urban diasporic material culture such as root medicines, spirit writing and healing oils, Stout created assemblages and environments that effectively transformed gallery and museum spaces into liminal sites that mapped cultural crossroads—contact points between Africa and the Americas, tradition and innovation, high art and vernacular culture....