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African-American artists up against “trumpism”!

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017

Here are six young African-American artists worth watching out for in the era of Trump and Black Lives Matter

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Photographs: Lauren Spinelli

African-American artists are hot right now, with more and more of them exhibiting in big Chelsea galleries, as well as in major museums like MoMA, the Whitney and The Met. Of course, in an ideal universe, this wouldn’t have to be singled out, and African-American artists would simply be artists, undifferentiated from their peers. But in America, everything is entangled in race, even in a liberal art world that remains overwhelmingly white, so something like the ever-rising profile of African-American artists was going to get noticed. Add the fact that current events—ranging from the rise of the Black Live Matter movement (which has attracted the attention of African-American hip-hop artists like A$AP Rocky as well as visual artists) to the election of Donald Trump—are raising the stakes for artists of color, even those whose work doesn’t seem especially political. For much of the past decade or so, the assumption has been that African-American artist have been working in “post-black” cultural environment. Whether that remains the case is unclear, but some clues to what the future holds might be found in work of these six young African-American artists worth watching right now.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best of 2017

Young African-American artists to watch


Nina Chanel Abney

Having already made a splash at venues like the Whitney and Art Basel, Chicago artist Nina Chanel Abney’s figurative paintings are big on size, impact and ambition. Each of her canvases is a veritable seven-layer dip of colors, symbols, abstract imagery, narratives, ideas, stylistic borrowings and art-historical references. They offer piquant commentaries on race, sex, pop culture, religion and politics delivered with potent visual nods to Matisse, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Nina Chanel Abney

Nina Chanel Abney, Who, 2015

Nina Chanel Abney, Who, 2015
Courtesy the artist


Caitlin Cherry

For a 2013 show at the Brooklyn Museum, Chicago-native-turned-Brooklyn-artist Caitlin Cherry went medieval on everyone’s asses with a mixed media installation featuring paintings tied to catapults, as if they were about to be hurled over a castle wall. Similarly, another work—a large triptych depicting the U.S. Capitol Building—is paired with a sculpture of a cannon made with PVC pipe. Cherry’s canvases are painted in a figurative Expressionist style and are often populated by cartoonish characters, but she also works in other mediums: One project involves the artist’s version of the Blackwater-style military contracting firm—a “painting security system” complete with slick, promotional video. Cherry’s work is essentially a 21st-century version the history paintings that extolled the high and mighty; in Cherry’s hands they become critical commentaries on the connection between power and art.

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Caitlin Cherry

Caitlin Cherry, United States Capitol Building, 2016

Caitlin Cherry, United States Capitol Building, 2016
Photograph: Courtesy Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Eric Mack

Mack, a New York artist who hails from Maryland, “paints” with pieces of found fabric that often take on three dimensional form. Whether they’re hung on the wall, suspended from the ceiling or left freestanding, Mack’s works have an architectural presence and provisional aspect that sometimes suggest rag-tag tents in a homeless encampment. In many respects Mack evokes marginalized people in today society, though with a hint, perhaps, of better things to come. “I empathize with the fragment,” he says. “Its potentiality is so great, so very urgent.”

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Eric Mack

Eric Mack, In Definitely Felt , 2016

Eric Mack, In Definitely Felt, 2016
Photograph: Courtesy the artist


Jennifer Packer

Born in Philadelphia, this New York artist paints portraits, interiors and still lives with a loose style limned in a subdued palette that gives her work an introspective air. Packer portrait subjects are often friends, though the artist eschews the usual trope of trying to reveal the sitter’s personality or psychology; instead, they’re pictured with their gaze averted, as if they were disinterested in connecting with the viewer. That sense of distance, combined with the fact that Packer’s results seem more like sketches than completed canvases, creates the impression that each of her subjects is a work-in-progress—as all of us bound to that unfinished bit of business known as the human condition inevitably are. Packer finds this situation sad, but also sees a sublime transitional beauty in it.

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Jennifer Packer

Jennifer Packer, Eric (II), 2013

Jennifer Packer, Eric (II), 2013
Courtesy the artist


Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton works in a diverse range of mediums, including performance, film, painting, ceramics and silkscreen. But what unites his efforts is his fascination with texts, especially those written in conjunction with such historical 20th-century developments as the prewar avant-garde, the Civil Rights Movement, Minimalism and Conceptualism. He describes his efforts as “black Dada,” ascribing subversive motives to works that are refined if brooding. A good example is a recent painting series called Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy) that uses collage-like techniques to create abstractions out of the titular phrase, which is borrowed from Malcolm X’s 1964 speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet.”

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton, installation view of “Midnight in America,” 2016

Adam Pendleton, installation view of “Midnight in America,” 2016
Courtesy the artist


Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self combines collage (using patterned fabrics) and paint to explore the intersection of feminine beauty, sexual fantasy and evolving concepts of blackness. In the process, she creates vivid narrative canvases imbued with a Surreal panache and a folk-art charm.

Six young African-American artists to watch in 2017: Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self, untitled, 2016

Tschabalala Self, untitled, 2016
Dan Bradica; courtesy the artist

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How the Nation’s Artists Are Standing with Standing Rock — Nov 24 2016

Collage by Lori Menna. All images provided by the creators

As the events at the Standing Rock pipeline protest unfold, artists are banding together under the hashtag #NoDAPLartmovement to share messages of solidarity, support, and resistance.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest, and in turn the Water Is Life movement (click to keep up with the #standwithStandingRock and #waterislife hashtags), are being fought by a diaspora. Water is everywhere, and so are the people affected by it. Though the Standing Rock encampment is growing, most of us aren’t there—but many people see this as a personal battle, regardless of where you’re located.

The conflict is currently centered around the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, where protesters are in direct and increasingly violent confrontations with militarized police, resulting in widespread injuries to protesters.

Digital drawing by Kenzie Townsend

But before #NoDAPL, there was Flint’s water crisis; and pipeline leaks and explosions throughout the United States; and droughts; and oil spills in the ocean; and the acidification of the seas; and the Great Pacific garbage patch; and even before that, massive dams changing the courses of most of the world’s waterways. Marshall McLuhan once wrote: “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” The emergence of the #NoDAPL art movement is a message. So what are the artists trying to tell us?

Lori Menna created her collage to support the movement’s environmental message, but also to express solidarity with the Lakota people. “I know that American Indians know our Mother Earth more than anyone. I have been sitting in Lakota Temezcal ceremonies for years. Their beliefs, their chants, their connectedness is powerful and meaningful and I respect their culture immensely.”

“Because I’m Native I looked hard at this #NoDAPL,” says digital artist Kenzie Townsend. “I think, people see what they want. I try to stick to the truth of the moment. See what that looks like until the world reveals itself.” He captioned the above drawing: “A one gallon a day oil leak on the Dakota pipeline would contaminate a million gallons of drinkable water.”

I Will Fight No More Forever, acrylic on canvas by Hailey Gaiser

Hailey Gaiser takes a darker and more symbolic view. Her piece features Chief Joseph, a reference to the trails of the Nez Perce. “Their home was stripped from them violently by a power with more greed and more guns,” she says. “It is horrifying to me that this story is re-playing out at Standing Rock, especially when the country is turning in on itself and the pot is boiling over.”

Much of the #NoDAPL art takes on the aesthetics of propaganda: strong visual themes, aggressive imagery, bold designs and slogans. It’s all but unavoidable for work that surrounds a massive cultural protest—it’s art that revolves around themes of power.

Quilt detail by Molly Batchelder

Ultimately, though, these powerful works are created by people who feel largely powerless. “I can’t comprehend how this can even be happening,” says artist Aubree S. “How is money more valuable than life? I wish I could be there to stand with them but as a single mom I can’t afford to fly out to North Dakota from California. Instead I support the people of Standing Rock the only way I know how, through art.” In this battle, many of us feel alone or disconnected from the action. Movements like this create strength through collaboration.

“Little warrior” sketch by Aubree S.

Share your own work using the #NoDAPLartmovement tag, and click here to learn more about how you can support Standing Rock right now.


Mirrored #NoDAPL Protest Signs Protect Protestors from Anti-Police

Stunning Archival Images Tell the Story of Standing Rock

The Guerrilla Girls’ Readymade Guide to Resistance

Rojava – the alternative society in Northern Syria

Art, a Pillar of Rojava’s Revolution

Alternative download link

Is art the fuel that keeps the fire of the Kurdish resistance alive?

Art at war times always carry strong messages. In Rojava it’s not only a political statement or a form release from facing really tough times. It’s about taking back your identity in your hands.

Before 2011, to have a book written in Kurdish or to sing traditional songs in the street could easily lead you to prison and torture.

Since Kurds have gained greater autonomy in northern Syria, their mother tongue can at last be heard in the streets, the new school books are written in Kurmanji and art and cultural centers are thriving in every city.

This short docu is an introduction to the creative mind of Rojava’s artists and an attempt to grasp the essence of their inspiration.

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