As the nation cleans its specs and individuals allow their curiosity to wander into Black spaces, this Black History Month, we come prepared with our annual two-part blog series: Black in: Art and Black in: Music. We've constructed a list of awe-inspiring gifted individuals that colour the art culture of the Black Diaspora within the UK and Beyond.
Rochelle Clarke is a visual artist (and musician) specialising in oil paintings, illustrations and design. With seeds planted within “free expression of women in colour, self-care and activism”, her work provides a safe space for healing as faceless Black and Brown frames enhance the white canvases she comes across. Exploring themes such as individuality, friendship, love and healing Clarke spotlights the Black Woman and Girl. She visually portrays the meaning behind sisterhood and positively affirms its necessity in today’s climate.
Grimachew Getnet is an expressionist painter with abilities to capture lived human experiences through strokes of colour. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Getnet uses techniques similar to Van Gough. With his craft, he presents a conversation of the relationship between the physical realm mirroring the spiritual. “I create an atmosphere; a space between reality and fantasy; a mirrored world. It is where I practice more of the spiritual and physical conspicuousness observations, questions, answers, and results of my long individual research about our existence; where we came from, where we are going, and who we are.” Through his work, he encourages spectators to live in their truest form, especially within a system that would compel us to conform.
Yinka Shonibare is a Nigerian British award-winning multidisciplinary artist who has touched various mediums such as sculptures, paintings, photography, dance performances and videography. His signature touch involves the African fabric as he uses the tool to tie the relationship between Africa and Europe. This interchange between the two cultures is a constant conversation you will recognise in his work.
4. Abi Ola
Next, Abi Ola: an artist inspired by the striking contrasts of the African Dutch wax print in her pieces. Specialising in painting, screen printing, collaging and textiles, Abi Ola navigates through old photographs and fabrics to reveal unique Black stories on a blank sheet. While developing her artistry through traditional Nigerian attire, Abi Ola used her father's clothing to intertwine two realms many second-generation Black Brits can recognise. Since 2018, her work has been in 13 exhibitions such as the Slade 150th Anniversary Octagon Gallery Exhibition, and The Ingram Prize Finalist Exhibition, and The Unit 1 Gallery.
Rendani Nemakhavhani (a.k.a PR$DNT Honey) shifts the art world with images of self and other Black Women into spaces in mainstream South African society. The South African illustrator (and full-time art director) has created a world that is an “ode to [her] first and then to blackness”. Putting the streets of Johannesburg centre stage in her pieces and the many faces that resemble her own, Nemakhavhani intends to redefine and reclaim power in Black spaces. Her style of pointillism, photography and exercising a bright colour palette draws attention to complex conversations not many have the patience for. Nemakhavhani's PR$DNT Honey alter ego is a space where multiple versions of herself can coexist. A grace that is not extended to Black Women unless crafted by themselves.
Next is Kika Carvalho, a Brazilian visual artist who flourishes in deep shades of blue. Her career originated in the streets of Vitória, Brazil as a graffiti artist; being one of the first women to do so. From 2016 her skills and deep analysis of the colour blue manifested her interpretation of her surroundings through paintings.
7. Simone Leigh
Simone Leigh is an American artist from Chicago. Her talents transfer in various mediums such as sculpture, installations, videography and performance. This year she makes history as the first Black Woman to represent America in the Venice Biennale.
The fuel to Leigh’s work is the female form of the Black Woman, as they are the protagonists in her pieces. Materials such as the Cowrie shells appear in many of her sculptures. She once told Art Newspaper: “I would describe the cowrie shell as a stand-in for the female body, or a body in general, or a representation of an absence as well as a presence.” Art News reported Leigh creates moulds for the cowrie shell with the shell of the watermelon. She told them: “[it's] a fruit that forms the basis for a racist stereotype about Black men and women." Like many artists on this list, her work is rich with intent. She creates conversations centred around ugly stereotypes that plague Black identities. With those false prophecies often branded on Black Bodies, she conjures them into something beautiful.
Next, we have Grada Kilomba, an interdisciplinary artist whose work fixates on memory, trauma, gender and post-colonialism. Her emotive pieces vary from text, movement to photography. Spotlighting the African Diaspora, her work provides a voice to silenced narratives as she helps restore hidden stories the West would like us to forget. Her work was awarded the Jury’s Honourable Mention at LOOP Barcelona in 2020 and she was the recipient of a grant from the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in 2018.
Naomi Lulendo is a French-Guadeloupean-Congolese artist currently based in Dakar, Senegal. Lulendo's work often explores the “misappropriation of words, meanings, objects and identity.” Her art form is an idolisation of “voodoo cosmology” paying homage to her Creole and African origins. Since 2016, she has been examining how urbanism and architecture can create a narrative of its own. Through language, tales and aesthetics, Lulendo composes puzzle pieces of images from magazines or distorted self-portraits. Her artistic story: is to bend the boundaries of what it means to be “exotic”. Lulendo has mastered taking one medium and containing it within a specific territory; manifesting a futuristic utopia for spectators to take a peek.
Are there any artists within the Black Diaspora you think we should know about? Tag us in your Instagram Stories so we can check them out!