20) SAMELLA LEWIS
New Orleans-based printmaker Samella Lewis has played an important role in the collection and curation of African-American art. She was a professor at Scripps College and founded the Museum of African American Arts in 1976, receiving numerous awards for her work and leadership. Lewis’ own art primarily consists of lithographs and serigraphs, including her 1994 piece, Masquerade
19) RENEE COX
Medium: Printmaking, photography
Artist Renee Cox has spent much of her career as an activist for women’s’ rights and the destruction of longstanding gender-based stereotypes. She has been a model in many of her works, controversially baring her body and image in narratives aiming to correct cultural information and fight racism. Her 1998 piece Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben turns her figures into superheroes and includes a key racism-fighting character in her work, Raje, who changes the historically determined roles of the figures.
18) FAITH RINGOLD
Artist and author Faith Ringgold was inspired by the fabrics used by her mother when she was a child. She has written children’s books, taught visual art, and produced narrative works about gender and race. Notably, Ringgold helped form an activist committee in the 1970s protesting the unequal presence of female artists at the Whitney Biennial. Her mosaics are present in subway stations, and her sculptures and quilts, such as the 1985 Flag Story Quilt, are part of permanent collections in New York City.
17) ADRIAN PIPER
Medium: Pencil on paper
Conceptual artist Adrian Piper has studied art and taught philosophy at renowned institutions across the globe. Piper was a trailblazer in introducing the concepts of gender and race into a feminist art movement and has integrated drawing, street performances, and costumes into her art. Her 1981 drawing Self-Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features has a permanent home in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
16) CHAKAIA BAKER
Medium: Mixed media
Newark-born Chakaia Booker studied a variety of mediums across the arts, including weaving, African dance, and ceramics. These multidimensional influences set the foundation for her ornate sculptures, which have been exhibited across the US. Over the years, her works have incorporated multiple mediums, including rubber, machinery, and fabrics, to discuss feminism, race, and societal consumption. Her 2006 work Never Mind was part of a greater collection of work in rubber that suggests the complex union between the natural and the man-made.
Photographer Marilyn Nance fell in love with her medium while photographing family members in Alabama. The Brooklyn native evolved her passion as a means of storytelling and an exploration of community and spirituality, first working as a freelance photographer for The Village Voice and eventually publishing works in The New York Times, LIFE magazine, and more. Her 1983 work Three Placards depicts a scene from an African-American rally.
14) LORNA SIMPSON
Medium: Silver gelatin print
Brooklyn-born artist Lorna Simpson started her career in the 1980s, working in conceptual photography before getting famous for her large-scale photographs. Simpson’s recent work includes video narratives about history and fiction and was shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2011 for the exhibition “Lorna Simpson: Gathered.” As part of the exhibit, Simpson included 1957–2009 Interiors, which are self-portrait recreations of 1957 photographs that she purchased on eBay.
13) EDMONIA LEWIS
Born in the mid-19th century in upstate New York, Edmonia Lewis was a neo-classical sculptor who spent much of her career in Rome. Having studied at Oberlin College, she moved to Italy in 1865 and became part of a group of feminist artists who helped promote her work. Throughout her prolific career, she sold her work for large sums of money, exhibited in Chicago and Rome, and was commissioned to create a bust of Ulysses S. Grant. Her 1866 sculpture The Wooing of Hiawatha was created as an homage to a romantic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
12) META VAUX WARRICK FULLER
Sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was born in Philadelphia and studied art in her hometown, as well as Paris, at the turn of the 20th century. During this period, more women were trained as artists than ever before in America, and she was commissioned several times to create dioramas for the US government. Fuller was an important catalyst in the Harlem Renaissance; her work Ethiopia Awakening served as a celebration of African independence and aimed to shatter associations with slavery.
11) ALMA WOODSEY THOMAS
In 1921, Alma Woodsey Thomas was the first fine arts graduate of Howard University. She taught art at schools in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years and created abstract art on the side out of her home kitchen. Thomas was also the first African-American woman to have a solo art exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Her 1963 piece Watusi (Hard Edge) is an example of the expressionist influences she mixed with her own style throughout her career.
10) SELMA BURKE
Sculptor Selma Burke is most famous for her commissioned bas-relief of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that served as the inspiration for the American dime coin. Originally a nurse in Harlem, Burke became part of the Harlem Renaissance and eventually opened an art school and art center bearing her name in New York City and Pittsburgh, respectively. Her 1993 work, Uplift, powerfully shows an African-American woman holding a small nude child up in front of her face with another child at her side.
9) VALERIE MAYNARD
Medium: Sculpture, printmaking
While Valerie Maynard has exhibited her work and taken residencies all over the world, the New York City-born and raised sculptor and printmaker has left a lasting mark on her hometown. As part of a station renovation, Maynard was commission by the MTA to create a permanent installation at the 125th Street Subway Station. Her 2003 Polyrhythmics of Consciousness and Light depicts colors and shapes against a geometric field that she describes as capturing “boundless energy” and “the Harlem of our dreams.”
8) HARRIET POWERS
Harriet Powers was a slave in rural Georgia when she began quilting. While only two of her quilts have survived, they have been exhibited from fairs in the south to the Smithsonian, representing the finest quilts of her time. Both works, including her 1898 Pictorial quilt have African-American influences alongside celestial and divine imagery.
7) RENEE STOUT
Medium: Mixed media
Pittsburgh native Renee Stout was in awe of the African minkisi sculptures she saw in the Carnegie Mellon museum as a child. Stout moved to DC after college and began working in assemblage with these Yoruba sculptures in mind. The Old Fortune Teller’s Board was inspired by a mysterious fortune teller in her old Pittsburgh neighborhood that she had never met, and it showed only positive readings.
6) LOIS MAILOU JONES
Medium: Oil painting
Another artist from the Harlem Renaissance, painter Loïs Mailou Jones was encouraged to pursue her interest in the arts from a young age in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Jones was an advocate for international artists, particularly African and Haitian artists, and she was also a Civil Rights activist. Her 1938 painting Les Fétiches depicts an African mask ritual.
5) BETYE SAAR
The work of artist Betye Saar has become important for challenging historically negative stereotypes of African-Americans. Saar began working in assemblage in the late 1960s and used the medium as a way to express heritage. Her 1972 work, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, addressed race and gender by subverting a racial stereotype and turning it into empowerment.
4) ELIZABETH CATLETT
Medium: Sculpture, printmaking
Elizabeth Catlett famously said, “I’m not thinking about doing things new and different. I’m thinking about creating art for my people.” A sculptor and printmaker, Catlett was known for fighting racial equality in the arts and her expressionist portrayals of black culture in the 1960s and 1970s. One of her most famous works, Sharecropper, was created in Mexico and showed Catlett’s activism for African-Americans and females in the south.
Kara Walker’s art has been exhibited across the globe. Her 1994 room-sized mural, titled Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, brought her into the art world spotlight. The work consists of black cut-out silhouettes and depicts narratives of slavery and racism in the history of the south.
2) CARRIE MAE WEEMS
Medium: Silver gelatin print
Visual artist and storyteller Carrie Mae Weems has addressed gender, race, and inequality throughout the past three decades of her career. A voice for black artists and known for being against the exclusion of black females portrayed in popular art, Weems took up photography after receiving a camera as a gift. She is most famous for her 1990 Kitchen Table Series, an intimate and powerful look into the dynamics that surround all relationships and traditions.
1) AUGUSTA SAVAGE
Augusta Savage began sculpting at a young age, using red clay soil from her Florida backyard. She attended Cooper Union in the early 1920s and was commissioned to make a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois for the Harlem Library. A key artist in the Harlem Renaissance, Savage was important for fighting both racial and sexual prejudice throughout her career, becoming a social activist and encouraging the work of others while nurturing her own career in the US and Europe. One of her most famous works,Gamin ( French for “street urchin”), depicts what may be her nephew Ellis Ford or a homeless boy.