It may seem impossible to find contemporary black artists in the art world due to slavery and racial abuse. Black artists have a long and storied history. Since the birth of jazz in the early 1900s, black artists have been shaping the culture with their innovative work in music, film, literature, art, and more.
The rich history of African-American culture has led to the emergence of a wide range of contemporary black artists. Singers, writers, painters, and so much more. We have curated a list of 10 Contemporary Black Artists You Should Know so that you can get to know them and their work better.
Kara Walker is an American artist born in 1954. Her work is known for its morbid themes and heavy use of black paint. She earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1976 and went on to receive an MFA in ceramics from the University of Kansas in 1980. Walker is best known for her large-scale installation artworks that focus on death and the morbid. Her vignettes of big cut paper silhouettes portray images of paintings depicting skeletons, bodies, or dismembered parts of human bodies. Kara’s paintings are full of emotions and stage feelings that speak directly to viewers.
She describes her work as “a mixture of photography and visual collage,” and states that her paintings are “about death and the way we find meaning in life.” Walker’s work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions in the United States and Europe, including at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. She’s had a great impact on contemporary art and popular culture.
Amy Sherald is an American painter born on August 30 1973 in Georgia, USA. She is a portraitist keen on displaying African Americans in their daily lives. Amy graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a degree in Bachelor of Art in Painting in 1997. She also earned a degree in Master of Fine Arts in 2004 from the Maryland Institute College.
In 2016, she became both the first woman and the first African American to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. She won it with her outstanding painting, Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance). In 2017, Michelle Obama commissioned Sherald to paint her official portraits. Following this success story, she became the first African American to earn a presidential portrait commission.
Amy broke her record sale of $350,000 with a little over $4,265,000 in a December 2020 auction.
Bim Adewunmi is a British-Nigerian poet, writer, and visual artist. She is known for her poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction about race, sexuality, gender, and other issues. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and journals, including the BBC’s “ i-D ” magazine, the journal “ Fence,” and “ Fence: A Journal of Contemporary Black Fiction .” She completed her higher education in English literature at the University of Edinburgh.
Adewunmi’s first book, a poetry collection titled “Black Box” (Knockabout Press, 2018), was released to great acclaim. The Guardian praised it, calling it “a collection of poems that feels quite unlike anything you’ve read before.” The New York Times Book Review called it “a work of extraordinary originality and power.”
Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall born on October 17 1955 is an American painter and professor. He used to lecture about his painting skills at the School of Arts and Design at the University of Illinois. Kerry is an experienced painter and sculptor on a large scale who speaks about the impact of the Civil Rights movement on African Americans. He uses his work to communicate the story of black people who have historically been excluded from the art world.
His thick layers of paintings mostly depict the issue of race. In 2017, Marshall made it to the list of annual Times 100 Most Influential People in the world. In 1997, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Some of his famous artwork includes “The Garden Project” series, and “The Lost Boys” series, among others.
Camryn Garrett is an American visual artist, painter, and writer. Her work is known for its figurative and narrative styles, featuring both African-American and female subjects. Her paintings, drawings, and mixed-media artworks have been shown in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums across the United States.
Garrett received her BFA in painting and drawing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2010. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art at the University of South Carolina. Garrett was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in 2015 and the Kresloff Prize for her work in 2016.
Next on our list of contemporary black artists is Bisa Butler. Bisa Butler is an American fibre artist born in 1973 in New Jersey. Her love for art started when she won an art competition at the age of 4 years. Butler as a talented black artist uses textiles to tell stories of the marginalized in today’s society.
She uses the imagery of family, community, and the future of the youth, among others to tell nice stories. In 2020, Time Magazine commissioned her to quilt cover images for them. This included “Person of the Year” and “100 Women of the Year” issues. In 2021, Bisa auctioned one of her quilts at USD 75,000.
Faith Ringgold is an American writer, painter, sculptor and performance artist. She was born on October 8 1930. Faith is well known for her quilts design. Some of her notable works include “The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding”, “The American People Series #20: Die”, and “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?”, and many others.
Because she wanted to differentiate her work from the others, she shifted from painting to fabric where she told African stories. She portrayed African textiles in her work to move from the association of painting with Western traditions. Faith also taught at the New York Public School system and the college level.
Kehinde Wiley is an American painter best known for his large-scale portraits of black people. Born in Los Angeles in 1997, Wiley is known for his attention to detail and use of bright, and bold. His photographs often depict people from African-American culture, as well as other ethnic groups. Wiley earned his BFA in painting from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1984, and his MFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1987.
Wiley’s work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions across the United States and internationally, including at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the National Museum of African American History, and the Chicago Humanities Festival.
In 2017, Kehinde was commissioned to paint former US President Barack Obama becoming one of the few African-American artists to paint the portraits of the presidential couple. You can find a lot of his illustrations on his Instagram page.
Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist born in New York in 1960. His artistic work spans race, sex, desire, and identity among others. Although he is a die-hard painter, he is skilled in sculpture, drawing and prints. He’s also well known for using text in his painting activities. This makes him a multi-talented contemporary black artist in our time.
Some of his great artwork includes “To Disembark”, Untitled (I Am A Man), “Runaways”, “Notes on the Margin of the Black Book” and many others. In 2018, Glenn received an Honorary Doctorate from The New School. He was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021.
Mickalene Thomas is a painter who has shown her work in galleries all around the world, and she is also the author of two books on African-American women’s history and culture. Her paintings have been exhibited at prestigious museums such as MoMA, The National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Most of these contemporary black artists have been working in the arts for several years now. And while they may not be the first or most prominent figures in their fields today—some may even be unknown outside of their communities—they still make important contributions to our current cultural landscape. Whether you’re looking for inspiration or just want to brush up on your recent art history, these 10 contemporary black artists are sure to satisfy any interest in contemporary African-American culture!
We know the list is not exhausted, and hopefully, you can add any black contemporary artists who are doing well in the art world. Also, you can let us know which one on this list stands out for you in the comment section below.