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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

James Smalls

[African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists]

African American group of artists. AFRICOBRA was an art movement formed in Chicago in 1968 by a coalition of eight African American artists devoted to celebrating and affirming the legitimacy of black artistic expression. The movement paralleled the black cultural revolution of the 1960s and incorporated elements of free jazz, vibrant color, the spiritual or transcendental, and “TransAfricanism.” The term TransAfricanism was invented and defined by Jeff Donaldson (1932–2004), one of AFRICOBRA’s principal founders, as a transcendent African-based aesthetic that simultaneously defines, directs, and fashions historical evolution. AFRICOBRA sought to develop a new and revolutionary black aesthetic based on African and African American approaches to art, taste, and beauty. These aspirations were combined with principles of social responsibility and involvement of artists in their local communities. The goal was to promote and instill pride in black self-identity through a self-defined black visual aesthetic.

Unlike most prior movements within African American art, AFRICOBRA’s work was not individualistic, but rather focused on collectivity and collaboration. AFRICOBRA grew out of the Chicago-based artists’ workshop OBAC (Organization of Black Artists of Chicago), whose founders included Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell (...

Article

James Smalls

The Black Arts Movement spans the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Inherently and overtly political in content, it was an artistic, cultural and literary movement in America promoted to advance African American “social engagement.” In a 1968 essay titled “The Black Arts Movement,” African American scholar Larry Neal (1937–81) proclaimed it as the “artistic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The use of the term “Black Power” originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of “Blackness.”

In addition to “Black Power,” the slogan “Black is Beautiful” also became part of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Cultural Movement (also known as Black Aesthetics). The aim of these maxims was to counter and dispel the widespread notion throughout Western cultures that black people’s natural features, such as skin color, facial characteristics and hair, were inherently ugly. The central purpose was to subvert decades of anti-black rhetoric and “to make African Americans totally and irreversibly proud of their racial and cultural heritage.” Black Arts Movement cultural theorists and artists reasoned that promotion of a black aesthetic was mandatory to help the African American community perceive itself as not only beautiful, but also as proud of the legacy of African American achievement, self-determinacy and self-identification with all black peoples throughout the African diaspora. The tone was militant and separatist, not conciliatory and assimilationist, and resulted in a call for a revolutionary art that spoke to a definable black aesthetic. In ...

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 ...