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Article

Regenia Perry, Christina Knight, dele jegede, Bridget R. Cooks, Camara Dia Holloway and Jenifer P. Borum

[Afro-American; Black American]

Term used to describe art made by Americans of African descent. While the crafts of African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries continued largely to reflect African artistic traditions (see Africa, §VIII), the earliest fine art made by professional African American artists was in an academic Western style (see fig.).

Regenia Perry, revised by Christina Knight

The first African American artist to be documented was Joshua Johnson, a portrait painter who practised in and around Baltimore, MD. Possibly a former slave in the West Indies, he executed plain, linear portraits for middle-class families (e.g. Sarah Ogden Gustin, c. 1798–1802; Washington, DC, N.G.A.). Only one of the approximately 83 portraits attributed to Johnson is signed, and none is dated. There are only two African American sitters among Johnson’s attributions. Among the second generation of prominent 19th-century African American artists were the portrait-painter ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

[Negro Colony]

Group of African American artists active in France in the 1920s and 1930s. Between the world wars Paris became a Mecca for a “lost generation” of Americans. Hundreds of artists, musicians, and writers from all over the world flocked to the French capital in search of a sense of community and freedom to be creative. For African Americans, the lure of Paris was enhanced by fear of and disgust with widespread racial discrimination experienced in the United States. They sought a more nurturing environment where their work would receive serious attention, as well as the chance to study many of the world’s greatest cultural achievements. France offered this along with an active black diasporal community with a growing sense of Pan-Africanism. Painters, sculptors, and printmakers thrived there, studying at the finest art academies, exhibiting at respected salons, winning awards, seeing choice art collections, mingling with people of diverse ethnic origins, dancing to jazz, and fervently discussing art, race, literature, philosophy, and politics. Although their individual experiences differed widely, they had much in common, including exposure to traditional European art, African art, modern art, and proto-Negritude ideas. As a result of their stay in Paris, all were affected artistically, socially, and politically in positive ways and most went on to have distinguished careers....

Article

Chika Okeke-Agulu

(b Cairo, May 22, 1963).

American painter, sculptor, fibre and installation artist of Egyptian birth. Amer, one of the few young artists of African origin to gain prominence in the late 1990s international art scene, studied painting in France at the Villa Arson EPIAR, Nice (MFA, 1989), and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Art Plastique, Paris (1991). She subsequently moved to New York. She is best known for her canvases in which paint and embroidery are combined to explore themes of love, desire, sexuality, and women’s identity in a patriarchal world. Amer’s use of Embroidery, historically regarded as a genteel female craft, to create images of women fulfilling their sexual desires without inhibition, recalls the provocations and strategies of 1970s Western feminist art. However, her work also reflects her alarm at the incremental curbing of women’s social and political freedoms in her native Egypt following the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, especially after the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser ended in ...

Article

Carol Magee

(b Dec 8, 1956).

Ethiopian painter, installation artist, graphic designer, and writer, active in the USA. She grew up in Addis Ababa in a family of painters before moving to the USA. She graduated from Howard University, Washington, DC, with a BFA in painting (1975) and returned in 1994 for an MFA. Her early works, based on dreams or visions, have richly textured surfaces. In the 1980s she abandoned her early palette of reds, ochres, and greens for one of purples and blues. Later paintings depict an urban environment and frequently evoke the feeling of dislocation and nostalgia that comes from living in a country that is not one’s own. Her use of themes and motifs from myriad cultures (including those of Ethiopia and Latin America) comes out of her experiences as a diasporic subject as well as the lives of the women around her. Her pieces often tell their stories, as in the Dream Dancers series (...

Article

Konjit Seyoum

[Eskender, Alexander]

(b Addis Ababa, July 22, 1937; d Washington, DC May 4, 2003).

Ethiopian painter of Armenian descent, active in the USA. Boghossian studied at St Martin’s School of Art and the Central School in London from 1955 to 1957. He then moved to Paris to study at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. During his Paris years, Boghossian embraced Pan-Africanist ideals and participated in the Negritude movement. Skunder returned to Ethiopia in 1966 and taught at the Fine Arts School in Addis Ababa, where he exerted considerable influence on young Ethiopian artists, until 1969. In 1967 he was awarded the Haile Selassie I Award for Fine Arts. He migrated to the United States in 1970 and became active in the Black Power movement. He joined Howard University in 1972 where he taught until 2001. During his tenure at Howard he inspired many Ethiopian diaspora and African American artists. Skunder drew on African mythology and Ethiopian Orthodox Church art to create mystical universes populated with masks, creatures, magical forms, and symbols. In works such as ...

Article

Konjit Seyoum

(b 1947).

Ethiopian painter and computer artist, active in the USA. He trained at the School of Fine Arts under Gebre Krestos Desta in 1967. He received a scholarship to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in Nigeria, where he earned a BA (1972). He then moved to the United States to be curator of the art gallery at Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD. He actively promoted Ethiopian art, curating two 1973 exhibitions that featured Ethiopian artists working in the USA. He was awarded an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. His paintings from this period are figurative. He went on to receive a PhD in computer art from The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, and became a professor of art and director of the Computing Center for the Arts at North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC. His works from the 1990s are cibachrome prints of computer-manipulated imagery that range from complex compositions to simple figural depictions....

Article

Adam M. Thomas

[Osvaldo Luigi]

(b Cairo, Egypt, April 9, 1906; d Amagansett, NY, Sept 3, 1956).

American painter of Italian origin. After residing in Europe, his family relocated to New York in 1914. Guglielmi studied at the National Academy of Design from 1920 to 1925 and became a naturalized citizen in 1927. He arrived at his first mature painting style in the early 1930s. Guglielmi was among the principal practitioners of Social Surrealism, an American variant of European Surrealist art that adapted some of its imagery and techniques but eschewed its sexual symbolism and psychic automatism. Guglielmi rooted his pictures in the physical world in order to address social and political issues but, unlike Social Realism, did so through the use of unexpected or irrational juxtapositions and disorienting variations in scale. Although Guglielmi was not actively engaged in politics, many of his paintings contain expressly political, if sometimes ambiguous, content, such as Phoenix (The Portrait in the Desert) (1935; Lincoln, U. NE, Sheldon Mem. A.G.), in which a foreground portrait of Vladimir Lenin presides over a deserted landscape of factories and rubble....

Article

Veerle Poupeye

[Wilkins, Ricardo ]

(b Kingston, Dec 1943).

Jamaican painter and teacher. He studied at the Jamaica School of Art, Kingston, and the Royal College of Art, London, and started exhibiting in the 1960s. In the early 1970s he lectured at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. He headed the painting department at the Jamaica School of Art from 1973 to 1981, subsequently moving to Boston, MA, where he lectured at the Massachusetts College of Art. His work showed an emotional and spiritual response to his experience as a black man in a post-colonial New World environment and his allegiance to Africa as his ancestral homeland. Most of his paintings and works on paper are abstract or semi-abstract with a strong emphasis on colour, pattern and rhythm, for example Untitled (Apartheid) (1978; Kingston, N.G.). They represent a synthesis of North American Abstract Expressionism and the artist’s African–American cultural and philosophical heritage. His paintings have a spontaneous, discordant and moody quality reminiscent of jazz music, another New World art form....

Article

Konjit Seyoum

(Worke)

(b 1950).

Ethiopian painter active in the USA. He graduated from the Fine Arts School, Addis Ababa, in 1972 and taught there from 1976 to 1978. He obtained his MFA from Howard University, Washington, DC (1978–80). His works, initially influenced by Skunder and drawn from traditional Ethiopian art, evoke magic scrolls in motif and style, using Amharic calligraphy and the magical words of traditional healers. In his visual poetry, he disassembles and reconstructs the shapes of letters through distortion and exaggeration, making aesthetic use of both meaning and form so that painting and writing become one. Greatly influenced by graffiti and jazz, Kosrof also works in universal themes, using Pop art as his expressive medium. Because of this, his pieces have been interpreted as synthesizing Western experience and Ethiopian mysticism into a unique identity. Some of his works in acrylic or mixed media on canvas, goatskin, or wood are composed of energetic layers of rich earth tones; in others, calligraphic messages in red, gold, and/or black are presented on a simple white background. From ...

Article

Elizabeth K. Mix

(b Addis Ababa, 1970).

Ethiopian painter, active also in the USA. She received a BA from Kalamazoo College, Michigan (1992) and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design (1997). Mehretu simultaneously references and breaks from the history of abstract modernist painting in her works, which combine multiple layers of drawing and painting, and are embedded with appropriated cultural references ranging from corporate logos and architectural structures to art history, comics, and graffiti.

Works such as Dispersion (2002; see 2006 exh. cat., p. 81) first suggest topographical drawings combined with geometric coloured shapes and swirling lines in a controlled chaos that simultaneously deconstructs and regenerates. Her work has been influenced by a range of art historical sources: a Baroque theatricality (alluded to specifically in The Seven Acts of Mercy (2004), inspired by Caravaggio (see 2006 exh. cat., pp. 132–3); Italian Futurism’s anarchistic revolution fueled by speed and technology; and the utopian social visions of Russian Constructivism. Geometric shapes associated with Kazimir Malevich are referenced in ...

Article

Lorraine Morales Cox

(b Nairobi, June 22, 1972).

Kenyan draughtsman and collagist, active in the USA. Mutu’s drawings, two-dimensional mixed media collaged images of women and installations explore themes of race, gender, beauty, politics and consumption (see fig.). She completed her primary schooling in Nairobi and her International Baccalaureate in 1991 at the United World College of the Atlantic in South Wales. Mutu then studied at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science in New York (BFA, 1996) and Yale University School of Art in New Haven, CT (MFA, 2000).

Mutu has created beautiful yet grotesque collaged images of women, using cutouts taken from such sources as glossy fashion advertisements, pornography magazines and medical illustrations combined with glitter, paint and iridescent pigments. Her process of lifting, cutting and rearranging critiques the ways popular media, racial stereotypes and long-held cultural assumptions have inscribed and idealized the female body. She draws particular attention to feminine ideals of beauty that lead to various forms of body modification. Classic Kenyan folktales, mythologies, and her own immigrant experience equally inform her imagery. The critical nature of her work brings to mind the earlier 20th century work of ...

Article

Bolaji V. Campbell

(b Oyo, Feb 25, 1956).

Nigerian painter and art historian, active in the USA. In 1982 he began teaching at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and was co-founder of Ona, an artist's group in Ile-Ife. While in Nigeria, he experimented with indigenous materials, developing a painting technique that he refers to as ‘terrachroma’, in which local soils are used as pigments, and the images on board are based on Yoruba beliefs and aesthetics. He drew particularly on shrine painting and deities as inspiration and mythology for abstract works. Okediji received an MFA from the University of Benin and a PhD in art history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1995). In his paintings of the mid-1990s, he changed his palette from subdued earth tones to much brighter colours. Line is still important, helping to maintain the dynamism created by the juxtaposition of complementary hues; multiple figures ‘swim’ in the images. The change in palette as well as subject-matter reflects his experiences in America and contact with African-American artists. These works are largely based in literary sources. Okediji became editor of the journal ...

Article

Joanna Grabski

[ El Sy ]

(b Dakar, Sept 9, 1954).

Senegalese painter, installation artist, curator and writer. After graduating from the Institut National des Arts du Senegal (1977), where he specialized in painting, he travelled in Africa, Europe and the United States. He played an active role in Dakar’s artistic community, serving as president of the Association Nationale des Artistes Plasticiens du Senegal as well as co-founding the Village des Arts, a cooperative studio space, and Tenq, an artists’ workshop. He won first prize for his mosaic at the Stadium of Friendship, Dakar (1986). Intending to provoke dialogue and commentary, his work challenges conventional modes of production and display. In addition to painting with his feet in the 1970s and 1980s, he painted on such innovative materials as jute sacks and fibreglass cloth used for making kites. His work is characterized by its emphasis on the gestural movement of painting, as seen in the sweeping brushstrokes and curvilinear forms of ...

Article

Susan Kart

(b Kaduna, Aug 15, 1967).

Nigerian multimedia artist, active in the USA. Tuggar studied in London before receiving her BFA from Kansas City Art Institute. She completed her MFA at Yale University. Tuggar’s work has been seen as central to the ‘Afro-Futurist’ style and theoretical impulse that gained currency in the mid-1990s as well as to a revitalized and globalized feminist discourse. Afro-futurism denotes the use of the historical past in conjunction with technological innovation to produce aesthetic explorations of the future, fantasy, and possibility for African cultures writ large.

Tuggar is best known for her digitally manipulated and printed collages of her own photographs with found images and text. Often she combined older, sometimes historical images with contemporary scenes and people, conflating past and present and thereby constructing the fantasy aspect of her work. In other instances disparate global spaces converge (Nigeria, the cultural ‘West’, the Middle East), setting up a contemporary investigation of colonialism and post-colonial global realities....

Article

Chika Okeke

(b Lagos, 1965).

Nigerian photographer, painter and installation artist , active in the USA. He attended Hunter College, City University of New York. In the 1980s he worked mainly as a painter but also collaborated with such New York artists as Carrie May Weems and Lyle Ashton Harris. In 1993 he developed his photographic work, dealing with issues of representation and urban life, particularly race, gender and sexual identity. His self-portraits, in which he wears women’s cosmetics, comment on assumptions about what constitutes gender identity, as in Woman in Egyptian Art (1996). They also reference the costume and make-up of Igbo ‘female’ masquerades, which are normally danced by men ( see Igbo §2 ). He also uses self-portraiture to criticize American culture. In his Cover Girl series (1994–9), for instance, he designed mock magazine covers for Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Condé Naste Traveller, making himself the cover girl. The ‘articles’ in these imaginary journals frequently address the West’s relation to Africa, for example, ‘Hysteria Over the Death of the Noble Savage’. Thus the ...