Art has forever been a fantastic way for people to express themselves fully and freely. Unfortunately, however, it has also been used to bring the injustices and inequality rampant throughout the world to the attention and forefront of the masses.
There is no better instance of this than in the history of African-Americans in the United States. For generations, black people were oppressed, marginalized, and ridiculed, with no own voice. Through art such as painting and music and equal rights movements, their suffering was eventually given a voice to speak out with.
Over the years and throughout the many struggles, African-American artists have become some of the leading and most successful figures in society. This success has led to many famous black artists being able to pay tribute to their past. They also help lead society into a future of total equality and tolerance.
Street to Mbari by Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence is among the most well-known African-American painters of all time. His style was seen to most closely resemble cubism, although it was undeniably colored and shaped by the flavored African culture around Harlem at the time.
A member of the Harlem Renaissance art movement, Lawrence’s famous African Paintings covered a range of topics such as war, migration, poverty, historical events, and the daily lives and struggles of African Americans in New York at the time.
His one of the famous black paintings created in 1964 titled “The Streets of Mbari” conveys a colorfully vibrant scene of the Nigerian market street and beautifully highlights all of Lawrence’s style and messages. He was a big proponent of people’s freedom, dignity, and the social components of society, and all these themes are lovingly displayed in this jazzy multicolored painting.
Celebration by Charles Searles
Of all the African-American artists, Charles Robert Searles was perhaps one of the most in touch with his African roots. He spent an extensive period studying art in different parts of Africa, and when he returned to America, he created a series of paintings that he aptly dubbed Nigerian Impressionism.
This African influence can be seen throughout his body of work, with African masks, drums, and dancing making regular appearances. You can find no better piece of this than in his most famous piece, the 1974 painting titled “Celebration”.
It is a large mural piece filled with lavish layers, vibrant festivity, and color. The mural is also littered with masked dancers, a chorus of drummers, and tribal motifs. No doubt, it is a beautiful tribute to Searles’s African roots and the very roots of art itself.
Land of the Lotus Eaters by Robert S. Duncanson
Robert Seldon Duncanson was considered one of the greatest painters of his time, regardless of color. Surviving during the time of slavery in America, Duncanson was a free black man and used much of his art as a tool for the abolishment of the inhumane slave trade.
His 1861 painting titled “Land of the Lotus Eaters” refers to a poem written around the same time that dealt with anti-slavery issues. The painting itself strives to depict a scene inspired by Homer’s Odyssey but instead is switched to the setting of the New World of America.
It is a gorgeously detailed and realistic landscape painting that shows the artist’s true talent. Its golden hue and sprawling terrain invoke feelings of inspiration and hope. The diverging races are helping one another within the painting and hope to inspire equality and civility between the two races.
Red Buckled Shoes – Philemona Williamson
Philemona Williamson is one of the leading African-American artists living today. Her work explores a range of heartfelt narratives such as adolescence, friendship, relationships, and themes such as time, dreams, and memories.
Much of her work deals with that awkward transition between childhood and adulthood. However, instead of focusing solely on black issues, Williamson adamantly insists that her famous black artwork deals with issues that everybody goes through, regardless of color, gender, or social class.
Her 2015 painting titled “Red Buckled Shoes” is one such painting. It poignantly portrays an adolescent African girl with dolls by her side while she appears to be approaching womanhood as flowers emanate from under her legs. The buckled red shoes could be a reference to the Wizard of Oz story, which also deals with similar topics.
Past Times by Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall is currently one of the most influential African-American painters today. He has even been included on the Time 100 list of most influential people globally. In his youth, he was utterly influenced by the civil rights and black power movements, which can be seen throughout his work.
His paintings include lively and jovial scenes yet have extremely black-colored figures. This was Marshall’s way of highlighting and confronting racial stereotypes. By depicting black people as overly dark and abstractly alien yet engaging in everyday activities, it emphasized just how ridiculous the concept of racism truly is.
His 1997 painting titled “Past Times” is an excellent example. It showcases excessively dark yet seemingly ordinary people engaging in everyday activities in the park on a hot summer’s day. It is viewed as a direct homage to George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon painting, which also deals with the topics of bigotry and class divide.
In just two centuries, famous black artists paintings have gone from being widely discriminated against and marginalized mainly to becoming some of the most famous and influential innovators. Yet, despite their complicated past, their paintings are filled with brightness and vigor. This inspires anyone who views them and sets a positive example for a brighter future.