AFROPUNK 10: BLACK ART FOR BLACK FUTURES
By Eye Candy
February 7, 2020
In all of our Black futures, there will be Black art. Some of it will be about the past — but some of it will still be looking as forward as ever because that is absolutely how Black people do. Some of it will be celebratory, and some funereal. Some of it will address social issues, some on personal meditation, and some will just be the life of a party (because parties have meaning). Some of it is bound to storm previously segregated institutions to do what much of society is too lazy to, and some will occupy private, FUBU spaces. Here’s a list of ten entities — people, spaces, creative ideas (circa February 2020) — that are contemplating Black Art for Black Futures in a way we can get down with.
Lewis is a young mixed-media artist, who makes layered images, portraits and scenes of people in her Baltimore community, abstracted both digitally and by hand. Her work jumped off the walls of the 1-54 New York art fair, which is where we first met her. Amani collages photo canvases, with painting and glitter and pieces of clothing, humanizing Black subjects that the art world has traditionally ignored or stereotyped and uses the mixed media to push images of them into the hyper-present. Lewis is also the co-founder of CLR’D, a Baltimore art collective that focuses on Black folks’ experiences. This is the future of representation.
This is an exhibit that runs through mid-June at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts which, like many Western institutions, has been historically clueless about how to relate to Black folks and Black creativity in art spaces, yet found an honest way to pay their art world reparations forward. The curators of this group show — 50 pieces from the MFA’s collection that were created by Black artists in the 20th century, including the likes of Archibald Motley, Gordon Parks, and Dawoud Bey — are high school students of color from the predominantly Black community of Dorchester. They were tapped by the museum to help design an art world spaces that would make the museum their own, giving them a unique opportunity to engage. We need more of this!
Another artist we first encountered at 1-54 New York, the Philly-born Shimoyama is a self-portraitist who uses the visual cues of magic, myth and mystery to explore Black queer identity — while examining the body politics this identity often comes wrapped up in. Shimoyama’s colorful paintings, which mix oils with tactile materials such as Black hair, jewelry, electronics, and glitter, represent everyday scenes and visions with unexpected (and sometimes eerie) brightness. And his recent large-scale installations, utilizing bouquets of flowers to adorn and represent familiar or cherished objects, also dress up the regular in trappings of natural wonder. Celebration and reservation are both at play here — human wonder as well. This is a hopeful future.
Eddy’s portraits of the Mangbetu people from his native Democratic Republic of Congo, forward a conversation between the regal traditions of African history and the current ravaging of its natural resources for technological needs. He studied at Kinshasa’s colonial-era Academie des Beaux-Arts but quit to form the independent artist studio, M’Pongo, “for the development of creativity and critical discourse that would convey our contemporary reality.” Eddy mixes his skills as an incredible classics-nurtured figurative painter, with a dystopian futuristic eye, using the DRC’s export of coltan, a product used in circuit boards of cellular phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, to comment on the evolution of people’s lives.
The South Carolina-born Satterwhite’s thoroughly modern practice lies somewhere between freaky computer animation, building virtual reality worlds, slaving at a job as a cog in a capitalist machine and then dancing in a club until the break of dawn, and, best of all, fucking with the viewer’s head. Last year, under the name PAT, he (and Nick Weiss) wrote and produced an album of electronic music, based on Satterwhite’s mother’s lyrics, that seemed like both an emotional goof, and as serious as a life’s work gets. You can sit and watch Jacolby’s videos, or you can enter his environments. But the sad thing is, you’re gonna have to leave and return to the real world.
Like other artists on this list, Jordan looks to the people of her community as subjects of her oil paintings — and in a short period of time, she has become one of the foremost realist portraitists of Black folks in the everyday in America. There is love and compassion spread across her colorful canvases, but also wonderful details of Black culture — Biggie in a Coogi, behind-the-counter accouterments of a Black coffee shop, boys in AF1s, Harlem street-sellers — evidence of a deeply empathetic eye and the skill to convey that feeling. Within Reach, the largest assembling of 30-year-old Casteel’s already prodigious body of work opens at New York’s New Museum in late February.
Los Angeles-based artist Lauren Halsey is a creator of installations, environments both big and small, ones that speak to the specific Black culture she grew up and lives in (South Central LA), as well as those that run as part of a broader and longer Black American (and African Diasporic) continuum. There are carvings of hieroglyphic scrolls and ancient Egyptian-style wall paintings of Black boys in doo-rags (the current ongoing “Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project”); and there’s the amorphous, sprawling, “infinite” assemblages of “Funk” culture that involve physical objects, murals, events, and most anything else street-approved and funky (the awesomely named “Kingdom Splurge”). The current community as the model for the future, because the community’s vision never ends…
Stephanie Baptist opened this self-run gallery for Black art, in her home in the republic of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood in 2017. And it has become an oasis in the dry capital-heavy desert of the greater art-world, perfect as a neighborhood spot (admission: AFROPUNK’s office isn’t far away) for discovering under-appreciated, next-level Black artistry. Baptist was formerly a curator at London’s Tiwani Contemporary, so she went in knowing the art-world ideas she wanted to defeat. Among the stand-out exhibits, Medium Tings has already hosted have been of Jonathan Gardenhire’s photos on Black masculinity, Temitayo Ogunbiyi’s delicate pencil drawings and Ayana Wilson’s performances. Part of what makes Medium Tings special is that it’s also a home, so follow on IG and reach out if you wanna drop by.
Momo Pixel is a game designer, but she’s much more than that — because while it’s fair to call computer animation her medium, the purpose of her forays into gaming are less commercial than to add Black social points of view (“a higher standard” and “moral truth,” in her words) into a famously racist and misogynist space. We first encountered Momo’s work on the pointed and hilarious “Hair Nah,” wherein a sister is fighting off wypipo wanting to touch her hair. Her most recent project is Momoland, “an interactive pixel-art exhibition that merges art, music, anime, and technology together. It promotes imagination, creativity, collaboration, gaming, and Blackness within the Geek culture community.” Momo Pixel’s “Momoland! (LVL4)” opens as part of the exhibit “Game Changers,” at Boston’s MassArt Art Museum in late February.
Motion designer, animator, filmmaker and digital artist Solomon was born in Trinidad and Tobago and is now based in New York City. He first jumped to Stan-levels of prominence in the motion graphics creative circles when he designed the opening title sequence for Black Panther, but he’s been a computer animation star in commercial circles for a while now – and he’s won an Emmy for designing the opening sequence of the WGN American television series, Manhattan. His most recent triumph has been the CGI fan-film, ‘Star Wars: The Last Stand’ which went viral when it dropped on YouTube in December.
(Top Image: excerpt from Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga’s “The Afronaut” (2018), oil on canvas)