Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Lorna Simpson
There are over 671 million posts on Instagram that are hashtagged #art. But how many of those posts come from Black artists? In response to the death of George Floyd, many Black artists have emerged to the forefront with powerful work. One of Beyoncé’s favorite artist’s, Hank Willis Thomas, responded with a powerful image of hands of every shade lifted into the air. But Thomas is just one of many Black contemporary artists using Instagram to share their work. Below, a list of seven of our favorites.
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Thomas is a conceptual artist who focuses on issues of race, identity formation, history, and class. He’s best known for his series “Branded” and “Unbranded,” which are reflections on Black corporate America. Willis comments on the commodification and consumption of Black bodies, and uses logos and equipment in tandem with references to slavery. In 2015, his art became widely popular after Beyoncé featured work from the “Branded” series on her website.
Wiley is probably the most famous of the artists on the list. His paintings use bright colors and modern imagery, making the viewer forget they are political in nature. He has radically changed the old European tradition of portraiture, a practice that was once exclusive to the European ruling classes. In 2018, Wiley was commissioned to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama.
KEHINDE WILEY Barack Obama, 2018 oil on canvas framed: 92 1/4 x 65 3/4 inches
Kara Walker’s work touches on subjects that are often overlooked. She addresses racial identity formation in her black-and-white silhouette works that focus on slavery or other modes of violence that took place in history. Walker doesn’t just make art—she works with the room. She hangs things on the walls, uses projectors, and cuts up black and white paper to hang. Walker creates an atmosphere, and captivates the audience, forcing them to question some of the harsh realities of being African-American right now.
Kara Walker, Detail of Fons Americanus2019, Non-toxic acrylic and cement composite, recyclable cork, wood, and metal, Main: 73.5 x 50 x 43 feet (22.4 x 15.2 x 13.2 meters), Grotto: 10.2 x 10.5 x 10.8 feet (3.1 x 3.2 x 3.3) meters) Installation view: Hyundai Commission – Kara Walker: Fons Americanus, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom, 2019 Artwork: © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and SprüthMagers.
Theaster Gates is a social practice installation artist, using art that includes both people and communities. Prior to becoming an installation artist, Gates was a potter, and spent 15 years making pots before deciding to engage in projects that involved people. All his works are responses to times and places in history. Many of his installations are made out of reused or previously discarded materials.
Rack of Aprons
Restitched moving mats, steel rack, bronze
52 1/2 x 54 x 60 inches (133.4 x 137.2 x 152.4 cm)
Carrie Mae Weems explores issues of race, class, and gender in her photography. She takes intimate photographs, most inside Black families’ homes. These photographs highlight gender roles, the everyday difficulties of being African-American, and the small subtleties of being in love and feeling loved. Lighting plays a huge role in the interpretation of Weems ‘images. She relies on light to determine the mood of every picture. Weems has received numerous awards for her photography, and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Wellesley College.
Lorna Simpson was first recognized in the art world for her text works that challenged stereotypical ideas about gender, history, and memory. She’s also known for her large multi-panel photographs, where she conveys the unseen sexual acts of the general public. Simpson also uses film to create a dialogue surrounding identity and desire.
Collage and ink on paper
11 x 8 1/2 in (27.9 x 21.6 cm)
Framed: 12 3/8 x 10 x 1 1/2 in (30.5 x 24.1 x 3.8 cm)
© Lorna Simpson
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Derrick Adams explores sculpture, drawing, collage and performance, but he’s best known for his layered portraits that focus on the material, allowing Black subjects to serve as a symbol of empowerment. His work speaks to the power that pop culture and perception have in our lives, reminding viewers that the self is constantly morphing, and can be as easily manipulated as the structures surrounding his subjects.
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