Nina Chanel Abney / American artist, based in New York. She was born in Chicago, Illinois. She is an African American contemporary artist and painter who explores race, gender, pop culture, homophobia and politics in her work.
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) / African-American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), one of the most successful dance companies in the world. He created AAADT and its affiliated Ailey School as havens for nurturing black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance. His work fused theatre, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with black vernacular, creating hope-fueled choreography that continues to spread global awareness of black life in America. Ailey’s choreographic masterpiece Revelations is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed ballets in the world. In this work he blended primitive, modern and jazz elements of dance with a concern for black rural America.
Njideka Akunyili-Crosby / Akunyili Crosby’s art “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds.”
Peju Alatise / According to Vogue, “Alatise defines her artistic practice as a search for truth and to this end much of her work centres on women in Nigeria and on the political and religious issues at the heart of the country.” Strongly believing that an artist should depict the world she lives in, Peju strives to visualize social issues of her country and personal experience. Considering the strongly held social views of gender roles in Nigeria, it is not surprising that much of Peju’s artwork focuses on gender inequality and women’s rights. Using her art to make statements about social issues, Alatise acts as a creative social activist through art. Alatise’s work expands on Afro-feminist views by fracturing the male mold of Modern African culture. Over the years, Alatise’s work has put her on a pedestal with many other distinguished Nigerian female artists like Nike Davies Okundaye, Lara Ige-Jacks, and Ndidi Dike.
El Anatsui / A Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria. He has drawn particular international attention for his “bottle-top installations.” These installations consist of thousands of aluminum pieces sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire, which are then transformed into metallic cloth-like wall sculptures. Such materials, while seemingly stiff and sturdy, are actually free and flexible, which often helps with manipulation when installing his sculptures.
Ifeoma U. Anyaeji / A Nigerian neo-traditional artist born in Benin City who decided to take-up art as a full-time career exploring her boundaries, as a female artist beyond the conventions of her initial academic training in painting. She later went on to pursue her earlier interest in sculpture and engaging further her passion for non-conventional art making and repurposing discarded objects, an interest stimulated by the constant environmental problems she encountered around her community particularly from non-biodegradable plastic bags and bottles. While experimenting with these discarded environmental pollutants, engaging possible processes of object remaking and reuse especially with non-conventional art making techniques and traditional craft processes, Anyaeji developed a style of art she calls “Plasto-Art.” This is an eco-aesthetic process of remaking, where she transforms her primary medium – used non-biodegradable plastic bags and bottles – by applying her crafting skills in a receding traditional Nigerian hair plaiting technique called Threading, combined with traditional basketry and fabric weaving techniques. Using this technique, Ifeoma creates very conceptually complex and organic sculptures and installations, with intricate textures and colours, that reference architectural forms, domestic spaces and furnishings, reiterations of cultural experiences, and discourses about the human body.
Aesha Ash / Now retired from the stage, Aesha Ash began taking jazz and ballet classes as a young child. At 13, she was accepted into the School of American Ballet; at 18, she joined the New York City Ballet. Ash danced in many soloist and principal roles with the New York City Ballet, and for most of her career there she was the company’s only African-American ballerina. Since leaving the New York City Ballet, Ash has danced internationally and performed in freelance roles. She recently founded the Swan Dreams Project, working to expose more African-American communities to ballet, and to increase their involvement and patronage while conveying the message that beauty and talent are not constrained by race or socioeconomic status.
Jamaal Barber / His work is one part narrative, one part portraiture and one part positive propaganda about blackness. Barber’s prints project black nostalgia, contemporary life, and afro-futurism. His current exhibition, “Bright Black” centers black identity, and the color black, as the main driver of the American narrative.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) / Death at a young age can often elevate a star to a mythic figure. But Basquiat already attained the latter status early in his career. He is best known for his primitive style and his collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol. Basquiat has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience into the elite art world. Basquiat’s 1982 painting sold for $110,500,000. A new record high for any U.S. artist at auction.
Romare Bearden (1911-1988) / Although he never became a household name Romare Bearden is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. He depicted aspects of black culture in a Cubist style.
Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois “Les Twins” / Professionally known as Les Twins, are French dancers, choreographers, producers, models, designers, and creative directors of their brand “Eleven Paris”. Often referred to by their respective nicknames, “Lil Beast” and “Ca Blaze,” they are recognized internationally for their talents in new style hip-hop dancing, and various dancing styles. They are identical twin brothers.
Mark Bradford / Fabricating his signature mixed-media collages with ephemera such as segments of billboards, flyers, and graffitied stencils, American artist Mark Bradford’s works marry his interests in modernist abstraction with the urban community from which he culls his materials. These ambitious, visually arresting works are striking for their simultaneous incorporation of physical remnants of a site and semi-figurative depiction of a scene or topography. In Kryptonite (2006), for example, Bradford amasses a dense grid of collaged materials that seems to delineate the aerial view of a city while visually recalling iconic modernist artwork such as Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43). Bradford also creates public art, installations, and video, often exploring the relationship between high art and popular culture and between materiality, surface, and image. Bradford is a recipient of the Whitney Museum’s Bucksbaum Award and was a 2009 MacArthur Fellow.
Sheila Pree Bright / Atlanta-based, award-winning American photographer best known for her works Plastic Bodies, Suburbia,Young Americans and her most recent series.
Iona Rozeal Brown / American painter best known for her narrative canvases commenting on cultural identity. She pulls her inspiration from ukiyo-e printmaking and contemporary hip-hop. She touches upon African-American culture and Japanese ganguro culture, which appropriates black culture.
Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971) / Campbell was the first African-American syndicated cartoonist, particularly known for his illustrations for Esquire magazine.
Agustín Cárdenas (1927-2001) / Cárdenas was a descendant of slaves from Senegal and the Congo, and was born in Matanzas, a major port in the sugar industry. He was a Cuban sculptor who was active in the Surrealist movement in Paris. His sculpture was influenced by Brâncuși, Henry Moore, and Jean Arp. Poet André Breton said of his artistic hand that it was “efficient as a dragonfly.”
Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) / Her work is a mixture of abstract and figurative in the Modernist tradition, with influence from African and Mexican art traditions. According to the artist, the main purpose of her work is to convey social messages rather than pure aesthetics. Her work is heavily studied by art students looking to depict race, gender and class issues. During her lifetime, Catlett received many awards and recognitions, including membership in the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana, the Art Institute of Chicago Legends and Legacy Award, honorary doctorates from Pace University and Carnegie Mellon, and the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in contemporary sculpture.
Nick Cave / American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist. Cave’s family was large in size and always supportive of his artistic interests. He claims his upbringing gave him an artistic attentiveness to found objects and assemblages. Cave started his artistic journey by manipulating fabrics from older sibling’s hand me downs. After he graduated Hickman High School in 1977, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute where he finished a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982. He is best known for his Soundsuits – wearable fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly. He also trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey. His later sculptures focused on color theory, mixed media and large scale installations.
Misty Danielle Copeland / American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba / Aboudia depicts fevered landscapes and street scenes populated by childlike figures in his graffiti like style. “Assassin” powerfully demonstrates Aboudia’s trademark “nouchi” style. Rendered in oil sticks, acrylics and collage, his works are noted for brutal lines of color applied to heavily layered background collages, details of newspaper and magazine cutouts ingeniously encircled by drawings fall in and out of focus. The resulting composition suggests current events cohering through the imagination into a provocative vision.
Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) / American painter, illustrator and visual arts educator. He was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Katherine Mary Dunham (1909-2006) / African-American dancer, choreographer, author, educator, anthropologist, and social activist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers in African-American and European theater of the 20th century, and directed her own dance company for many years. She has been called the “matriarch and queen mother of black dance.”
Garth Fagan / Fagan’s choreography incorporates elements of modern dance, ballet, Afro-Caribbean dance, and social dance. Many of his works are autobiographical or include themes of personal relevance. His untitled 1977 work chronicles the dissolution of his marriage, showing a couple beginning a relationship with affection and passion but eventually drifting apart due to inevitable obstacles. Griot New York, which premiered in 1991 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is about the experiences of the underprivileged living in New York City. The piece juxtaposes linear balletic movement with sharp angular gestures, twitching, and erotic partnering to represent the diversity and contrast found in big cities as well as conflict in his own life. In Moth Dreams, choreographed in 1992, Fagan celebrates his childhood, adolescence, and relationship with his mother.
LaToya Ruby Frazier / American artist and professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From Braddock, Pennsylvania, Frazier began photographing her family and hometown at the age of 16, revising the social documentary traditional of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to imagine documentation from within and by the community, and collaboration between the photographer and her subjects. Inspired by Gordon Parks, who promoted the camera as a weapon for social justice, Frazier uses her tight focus to make apparent the impact of systemic problems, from racism to deindustrialization to environmental degradation, on individual bodies, relationships and spaces. In her work, she is concerned with bringing to light these problems, which she describes as global issues.
Charles Gaines / Beginning in the 1970s, he was one of the few African American Conceptual artists to focus on abstraction and aesthetics in order to consider perception, objectivity, and relationships. Working serially in progressive and densely layered bodies of works, Gaines examines the interplay between objectivity and interpretation, the systematic and the poetic. His groundbreaking work serves as a critical bridge between the first-generation Conceptualists of the 1960s and ’70s and those artists of later generations considering the limits of subjectivity and language.
Ellen Gallagher / Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions and is held in the permanent collections of many major museums. Her media include painting, works on paper, film and video. Some of her pieces refer to issues of race, and may combine formality with racial stereotypes and depict “ordering principles” society imposes.
Theaster Gates / His work aims to bridge the gulf between art and society; establish cultural communities; and initiate social, political, and urban change.
Sam Gilliam / A color field painter and lyrical abstractionist artist. Gilliam, an African American, is associated with the Washington Color School, a group of Washington, D.C. area artists that developed a form of abstract art from color field painting in the 1950s and 1960s. His works have also been described as belonging to abstract expressionism and lyrical abstraction. He works on stretched, draped and wrapped canvas, and adds sculptural 3D elements. He is recognized as the first artist to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars around 1965. This was a major contribution to the Color Field School. In his more recent work, Gilliam has worked with polypropylene, computer-generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, handmade paper, aluminum, steel, plywood, and plastic.
Savion Glover / Glover stated that his style is “young and funk.” When asked to describe what funk is, he says it is the bass line. “Funk is anything that gets one’s head on beat. It is riding with the rhythm. It is a pulse that keeps one rolling with the beat.” Gregory Hines, a tap legend, was one of Glover’s tap teachers. Hines stated that “Savion is possibly the best tap dancer that ever lived.”
David Hammons / Hammons work reflects his commitment to the civil rights and Black Power movements. His known for his African American flag.
Barkley Leonnard Hendricks / American painter who made pioneering contributions to black portraiture and conceptualism. While he worked in a variety of media and genres throughout his career (from photography to landscape painting), Hendricks’ best known work took the form of life-sized painted oil portraits of Black Americans.
Gregory Hines (1946-2003) / American dancer, actor, choreographer and singer. He is considered one of the most celebrated tap dancers of all time.
Jason Innocent / Before Innocent’s debut solo exhibition, early hype had critics and fans calling him the second coming — of Basquiat. Although he still in early stages of his career. Innocent is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest African American artists — perhaps the greatest — of all time within the African American community. Innocent’s works are heavily political. Most of the themes in Innocent’s works revolve around social problems, power structures, class struggle, poverty and systems influenced or directed by racism. Innocent is the youngest and first African American artist to have two notable and distinctly different styles of artwork earn critical acclaim The Egomaniac Trump poster and 39 Drawings by Jason Innocent.
Gordon C. James / Gordon C. James’ chosen artistic genre has its roots in Impressionism.  The art of John Singer Sargent, Nicholai Fechin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and many others inspired James to pursue a style that is both academic and expressive. As a result, his work contains a lyricism not often found in contemporary art. Be it through the sensitivity found in his romantic pieces, or commitment to excellence in his commercial work, James always connects with his viewer. He says of his work, “When people see my art, I want them to say I know that person, I know that feeling.”
Fabiola Jean-Louis / While her images have been described as “magical, moody, and mysterious”, Fabiola’s body of work is also that of visual activism as she challenges the hegemony of society. Simultaneously, her goal is always to capture something that is not necessarily tangible in our world…Something that is beyond our humanity, and perhaps even pure. Her love of Afro-futurism, science/ science fiction, pre and post-industrial eras, elves, fairies, and history and folklore, are also central themes in her work.
Joshua Johnson (1763-1824) / American painter from the Baltimore area of African and European ancestry. Johnson is known for his naïve paintings of prominent Maryland residents.
Rashid Johnson / American artist who produces conceptual post-black art. Johnson first received critical attention when examples of his work were included in the exhibition “Freestyle,” curated by Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001. He studied at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his work has been exhibited around the world.
Bill T. Jones / American choreographer, director, author and dancer. He is the co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Jones is Artistic Director of New York Live Arts, the company’s home in Manhattan, whose activities encompass an annual presenting season together with allied education programming and services for artists. Independently of New York Live Arts and his dance company, Jones has choreographed for major performing arts ensembles, contributed to Broadway and other theatrical productions, and collaborated on projects with a range of fellow artists. Jones has been called “one of the most notable, recognized modern-dance choreographers and directors of our time.”
Jennie C. Jones / Her work has been described, by Ken Johnson, as evoking minimalism, and paying tribute to the cross-pollination of different genres of music, especially jazz. As an artist, she connects most of her work between art and sound. Such connections are made with multiple mediums, from paintings to sculptures and paper to audio collages. In 2012, Jones was the recipient of the Joyce Alexander Wien Prize, one of the biggest awards given to an individual artist in the United States. The prize honors one African-American artist who has proven their commitment to innovation and creativity, with an award of 50,000 dollars.
Simmie Lee Knox / American painter who painted the official White House portrait of former United States President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. He was the first black American artist to receive a presidential portrait commission.
Abdoulaye Konaté / Combining his painting skills with installation work, he comments on political and environmental affairs. The encroachment of the Sahel and the impact of AIDS on society and on individuals have been two major themes in his work.
Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) / Cuban artist who sought to portray and revive the enduring Afro-Cuban spirit and culture. Inspired by and in contact with some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, e.g., Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Lam melded his influences and created a unique style, which was ultimately characterized by the prominence of hybrid figures. This distinguished visual style of his also influences a lot of artists. Though he was predominantly a painter, he also worked with sculpture, ceramics and printmaking in his later life.
Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) / The most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the 20th century. His modernist depictions of everyday life as well as epic narratives of African American history and historical figures. He brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors. He is best known for his Migration Series.
Deana Lawson / American artist, educator and photographer, based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work revolves primarily around issues of intimacy, family, spirituality, sexuality, and Black aesthetics. Lawson has been praised for her ability to communicate the nuances of African American experiences in relation to issues of social, political, and economic factors.
Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907) / American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome, Italy. Born free in New York, she was the first woman of African-American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame and recognition as a sculptor in the fine arts world. Her work is known for incorporating themes relating to black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas into Neoclassical-style sculpture. She began to gain prominence in the United States during the American Civil War; at the end of the 19th century, she remained the only black woman who had participated in and been recognized to any degree by the American artistic mainstream. In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Edmonia Lewis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
Glenn Ligon / American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. Based in New York City, Ligon engages in intertextuality with other works from the visual arts, literature, and history, as well as his own life. He is noted as one of the originators of the term Post-Blackness.
Gonçalo Mabunda / Gonçalo Mabunda uses Kalashnikovs, rockets, pistols, and shell casing in order to make anthropomorphic figures out of the deconstructed weapons. By turning weapons into lifelike figures, Mabunda literally turns death into life. The figurines are also representative of the over 1 million people killed during his country’s civil war. Mabunda has also lost relatives during the war, which makes working with and deconstructing weapons used during the 16-year war more important for him. He makes thrones and masks out of these deactivated weapons used during the Mozambique Civil War. The masks are based on traditional Sub-Saharan African masks, however, the original twist on the art form by creating them out of weapons is unique to Mabunda. Representing power, Mabunda’s thrones mock how the traditional power rests on weapons. By using weapons, Mabunda’s work carries the message of how further violence can be prevented, and that destroying the weapons of war can be done in an aesthetic and artistic way.[6] Mabunda’s art directly challenges the absurdity of war. His work has a modernist style to it and has been compared to the work of Braque and Picasso.
Kerry James Marshall / Marshall uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of black identity, both in the United States and in Western art. He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon, and has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics. Marshall works are in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center.
Princess Mhoon / A native of Chicago, Illinois, she began her training with Alyo Children’s Dance Theatre, Joseph Holmes Dance Studio, and Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago. Mhoon Cooper has received numerous awards and scholarships for her excellence in dance, including recognition from the American Dance Festival, Dance Magazine, Howard University, Career Transitions for Dancers, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She has performed and toured with the world renowned Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, The Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble, Nathan Trice Rituals, and Deeply Rooted Productions. She is the founder of DANCING FEET, an integrated arts program that includes classes and workshops for schools and outreach institutions.
Arthur Mitchell (1934-2018) / American ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder and director of ballet companies. In 1955, he was the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet, where he was promoted to principal dancer the following year and danced in major roles until 1966. He then founded ballet companies in Spoleto, Washington, D.C., and Brazil. In 1969, he founded a training school and the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Among other awards, Mitchell was recognized as a MacArthur Fellow, inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame, and received the United States National Medal of Arts and a Fletcher Foundation fellowship.
Senga Nengudi / African-American visual artist best known for her abstract sculptures that combine found objects and choreographed performance. She is part of a group of African-American avant-garde artists working in New York and Los Angeles from the 1960s onward.
Fayard Nicholas (1914-2006) / In 1932, when he was 18 and his brother was only 11, they became the featured act at Cotton Club in New York City. The brothers earned fame with a unique style of rhythm tap that blended “masterful jazz steps with daredevil athletic moves and an elegance of motion worthy of ballet.” They appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and in London they worked with jazz choreographer Buddy Bradley. The performances led them to a career in film. Nicholas appeared in over 60 films, including the 1943 musical Stormy Weather with their signature staircase dance.
Brandan “BMike” Odums / Brandan “Bmike” Odums is a highly sought after visual artist and filmmaker who uses these chosen mediums to tell stories and make statements that transform the minds of viewers as well as the spaces in which his work appears.
Lorraine O’Grady / American artist and critic. She works in conceptual art and performance art that integrates photo and video installation. Her work explores the cultural construction of identity – particularly that of black female subjectivity – as shaped by the experience of diaspora and hybridity.
Nnenna Okore / Her largely abstract sculptures are inspired by textures, colors and forms within her immediate milieu. Okore’s work frequently uses flotsam or discarded objects to create intricate sculpture and installations through repetitive and labor-intensive techniques. She learned some of her methods, including weaving, sewing, rolling, twisting and dyeing, by watching local Nigerians perform daily tasks. Most of Okore’s work explores detailed surfaces and biomorphic formations. Okore’s work has been shown in galleries and museums in and outside of the United States, and she has won several international awards, including a Fulbright Scholar Award in 2012.
Charly “Carlos” Palmer / He portrays black icons and historical events in his paintings. He has covered many black athletes: Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson; Civil Rights leaders: Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King; Entertainers: Jazz greats, rappers; and prominent figures like James Baldwin and Barack Obama. Like Lawrence, Palmer documented some of the major movements and topical issues in history like slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, police brutality, convict labor and Voter Rights, Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Lives Matter. Church, family and social justice are also reoccurring themes in his art. His current work explores black identity, activism and race in America.
Gordon Parks (1912-2006) / Known for his iconic photos of poor Americans. Parks is the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. He is credited for creating the “Blaxploitation” genre. Parks received more than 20 honorary doctorates in his lifetime.
Ebony G. Patterson / Jamaican-born visual artist and educator. She is known for her large and colorful tapestries created our of various materials such as, glitter, sequins, fabric, toys, beads, faux flowers, jewelry, and other embellishments, her “Gangstas for Life series” of dancehall portraits, and her garden-inspired installations.
Howardena Pindell / American painter and mixed media artist. Her work explores texture, color, structures, and the process of making art; it is often political, addressing the intersecting issues of racism, feminism, violence, slavery, and exploitation. She is known for the wide variety of techniques and materials used in her artwork; she has created abstract paintings, collages, “video drawings,” and “process art.”
Horace Pippin (1888-1946) / Pippin was an esteemed artist known for his renderings of the African-American experience, as well as biblical and historical imagery. The injustice of slavery and American segregation figures prominently in many of his works.
William Pope.L / American visual artist best known for his work in performance art, and interventionist public art. However, he has also produced art in painting, photography and theater. He was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial and is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the Creative Capital Visual Arts Award.
Desmond Richardson / Legendary ballet dancer Desmond Richardson is known for being the first African-American principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. Richardson’s impressive skill and artistic prowess have earned him personal Tony nominations, as well as roles in Tony award-winning Broadway productions. Having been featured in countless publications and invited to dance with some of the most prestigious companies around the world, Richardson is recognized as one of the best dancers of his time. He remains involved with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which he co-founded in 1994 with choreographer Dwight Rhoden as a space to reinvent dance through a groundbreaking mix of methods, styles, and cultures.
Faith Ringgold / Painter, writer, mixed media sculptor and performance artist, best known for her narrative quilts.
Deborah Roberts / Her collage is strikingly beautiful and black. Roberts’ art examines the intersection of race and beauty and status quo. Her latest collage centers black girls. They are situated against the whitest background, dressed in brightest hues and attention-grabbing patterns; none of which deflects curiosity or interest from the girl’s rich skin tone and demeanor. Roberts crowns them and presents them as cool and resilient. She empowers them.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949) / American tap dancer, actor, and singer, the best known and most highly paid black American entertainer in America during the first half of the twentieth century. His long career mirrored changes in American entertainment tastes and technology. His began in the age of minstrel shows and moved to vaudeville, Broadway theatre, the recording industry, Hollywood films, radio and television. According to dance critic Marshall Stearns, “Robinson’s contribution to tap dance is exact and specific. He brought it up on its toes, dancing upright and swinging”, giving tap dancing a “hitherto-unknown lightness and presence.” His signature routine was the Stair Dance, in which he would tap up and down a set of stairs in a rhythmically complex sequence of steps, a routine that he unsuccessfully attempted to patent.
Fatima Robinson / One of today’s most famous and sought-after choreographers, Fatima Robinson’s work can be found, well, everywhere! Known for her ability to combine classic dance styles and hip-hop, Robinson has choreographed for brands such as Target, Chanel, and Burberry, among others. She has worked with dozens of famous actors and musicians, including Pharrell Williams, Usher, Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar. Some of the biggest shows in dance entertainment feature her work, including The Voice and Dancing with the Stars, and her choreography has enlivened major events such as the Super Bowl Halftime Show (2011) and the Academy Awards (2007 and 2009). She has directed, produced, and choreographed everything from popular commercial campaigns to “Taking the Stage: Changing America,” the concert honoring the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Robinson was even invited by Michelle Obama to teach a master class at the White House, to celebrate African American Women and Dance.
Alison Saar / Sculptor, mixed-media, and installation artist. Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. Saar is well known for “transforming found objects to reflect themes of cultural and social identity, history, and religion.”
Betye Saar / Saar was a part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s, which engaged myths and stereotypes about race and femininity. Her work is considered highly political, as she challenged negative ideas about African-Americans throughout her career.
Chéri Samba / Painter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is one of the most famous contemporary African artists, with his works being included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A large number of his paintings are also found in The Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) of Jean Pigozzi.
Augusta Savage (1892-1962) / Augusta Savage was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance as well as an influential activist and arts educator. She worked for equal rights for African Americans in the arts.
Xaviera Simmons / American contemporary artist. She has discussed in lectures that she is a descendant of Black American enslaved individuals on all sides of her lineage as well as European American colonizers and Indigenous Americans through the institution of American Slavery. Her body of work spans photography, performance, painting, video, sound, sculpture, and installation. Her studio practice is rooted in an ongoing investigation of sensory experience, memory, and abstraction within present and future histories—specifically shifting notions surrounding landscape—as cyclical versus linear. Simmons is committed to the examination of different artistic modes and processes; she may dedicate part of a year to photography, another part to performance, and other parts to installation, video, and sound work.
Lorna Simpson / African-American photographer and multimedia artist. She made her name in the 1980s and 1990s with artworks such as Guarded Conditions and Square Deal. Her works have been included in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally. She is best known for her photo-text installations, photocollages, and films.
Shinique Smith / American visual artist, known for her colorful installation art and paintings that incorporate found textiles and collage materials.
Renee Stout / American sculptor and contemporary artist known for assemblage artworks dealing with her personal history and African-American heritage. Born in Kansas, raised in Pittsburgh, living in Washington, D.C., and strongly connected through her art to New Orleans, Stout has strong ties to multiple parts of the United States. Her art reflects this, with thematic interest in African diasporic culture throughout the United States. Stout was the first American artist to exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
Martine Syms / Her work often explores contemporary black identity, queer theory, and the power of language through video, performance, writing and other media.
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) / Tanner was an American painter who frequently depicted biblical scenes and is best known for the paintings “Nicodemus Visiting Jesus,” “The Banjo Lesson” and “The Thankful Poor.” He was the first African-American painter to gain international fame.
Henry Taylor / Henry Taylor makes radically human figurative paintings. He’s the whip-smart uncle who has been around the block and seen a few things. He is the embodiment of the African American male experience stretched through a time where the rugged seas of shifting thoughts, ideologies, and realities deposit those who make it to shore with sage-like wisdom. The stories Taylor paints oscillate between glimpses of the mundane and transient moments of our humanity. He shows us both our liberation dreams and what impedes them. The sheer act of painting—choosing to be a painter—is a revolutionary act and represents an unwavering belief in franchisement and a better America.
Hank Willis Thomas / American conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture.
Mickalene Thomas / African-American visual artist best known as a painter of complex works using rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel. Thomas’s collage work is inspired from popular art histories and movements, including Impressionism, Cubism, Dada and the Harlem Renaissance. Her work draws from Western art history, pop art and visual culture to examine ideas around femininity, beauty, race, sexuality, and gender.
William Tolliver (1951-2000) / The Vicksburg, MS native handled figure studies, portraits, human interest situations, landscapes, and semi-abstracts, all with equal perfection and all from a photographic memory. He never received any formal training, however, Tolliver attested to reading more than 4,000 books on different subjects, but mostly on art – his thirst for the subject was unquenchable. He educated himself by studying the classics: Chagall, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso.
James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) / American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Aside from the artistic merits of his work, Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period. Among his most famous subjects during this time were Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Countee Cullen.
Lina Iris Viktor / Her photography, painting and sculptural installations are infused with cultural histories of the global African diaspora and preoccupied with multifaceted notions of blackness: as colour, as material and as socio-political consciousness. To Viktor, black is the proverbial materia prima: the source, the dark matter that birthed everything.
Kara Walker / Walker is known for her large paper silhouettes that explore socially explosive issues like gender, race and black history. At 28 she was the youngest artist ever to receive a MacArthur fellowship. In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.
Laura Wheeler Waring / Waring created portraits of many well-known figures from the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.
Carrie Mae Weems / Weems works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video, but is best known for her work in the field of photography. Weems’s work has been displayed in over 50 exhibitions in the United States and abroad and focuses on serious issues that the African American community must confront today, such as racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity.
Kehinde Wiley / Wiley gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture. He is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people in heroic poses.
Ebony Williams / In 2005 after graduating from the Boson Conservatory with a BFA in Dance, Ebony signed a contract with the renowned Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet as the company’s first African American female dancer. Performing works by Hofesh Shechter, Crysal Pite, Alexander Ekman, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Ohad Naharin, Jiri Kylian as well as a host of others, establishing herself as an extremely versatile artist. As a 10-year member of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Ebony was featured in the movie Adjustment Bureau staring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, So You Think You Can Dance and Ohad Naharin’s documentary Out of Focus.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye / She is best known for her portraits of fictitious subjects painted in muted colors. Her work has contributed to the renaissance in painting the black figure.
Brenna Youngblood / Her work explores issues of African-American identity and representation. Youngblood’s work often references historically significant moments and organizations in African-American history such as her 2017 sculpture M.I.A. which “refers to the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group co-organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. to guide the Montgomery bus boycott protest in 1955.”