When Black musicians breakthrough in the market, they are sometimes referred to as “discoveries,” however there has been a long line of artists before them.
When I learn that another Black artist has sold at auction in New York, London, or Hong Kong for record-breaking prices, I have conflicting feelings. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see Black artists securing the bag and benefiting from the income earned by their work during their lives. If an auction price is high, subsequent works by the same artist can be sold for similarly high prices.
Opinion of one of the artists as per contemporary art news: On the other hand, I’m concerned about how these astronomically talented Black artists’ work is portrayed. When a Black artist has a breakthrough, their ‘newness’ is frequently emphasised. The emphasis is on ‘discovery,’ and the ‘discoverer’ is frequently from outside the Black artist’s community. Because the discoverer has never seen anything like it, there has never been anything like it made before. Either that or the discoverer is limited to viewing the work through the prism of Western art history.
Some artists demand that their work’s Black forerunners be acknowledged. Kerry James Marshall, for example, frequently mentions Charles White’s contribution to the development of his work. However, it should not be the artist’s responsibility to research important art history. Curators, commentators, art historians, and obnoxious writers like myself, who have a monthly column in The Art Newspaper, should be included.
The contemporary art news gave us an example: So, let’s use Amoako Boafo as an example. Boafo is a Ghanaian artist whose images of African-American characters have sparked outrage in the art community. He’s established auction records, worked with fashion businesses, and even launched a triptych into space on Jeff Bezos’ rocket. His art is easy to understand and enjoy. The subjects are frequently photographed in bright attire or against bright backgrounds. Their gaze is frequently directed at the viewer. Boafo’s technique stands out in particular. He paints with his fingers, and you can see the artist’s hand in every single stroke of paint in his work. It allows the job to move. The figure is motionless, but their skin moves; it is alive.
If you’ve heard of Amoako Boafo, you’ve probably heard of Ablade Glover, a Ghanaian performer. Glover, who was born in 1934 and studied art instruction at Newcastle University, is a highly acclaimed Ghanaian and a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London. Glover also avoids using a paintbrush, preferring instead to use a palette knife rather than his fingers. His work has a similar effect to Boafo’s work. Every every stroke of the palette knife on the canvas is visible as the artist’s hand. His paintings, particularly his series on market ladies, are full of movement.
Of course, Glover’s and Boako’s projects are not the same. Glover is drawn to the beauty and activity of a crowd, but Boako is drawn to the uniqueness of people. Glover’s people belong to a Ghanaian ethnic group. Boafo’s subjects stand out and are unique, perhaps as a criticism on the Western individualism. However, there is enough similarity in the work for the two artists’ names to be associated.
Let’s take a look at Tschabalala Self. Self uses fabric, paint, and discarded fragments of her previous work to portray the feminine body. The pieces are daring and enthralling. Her bodies are enormous and confident, with full bosoms and full bottoms, a body type that is often overlooked in fashion magazines. The figures represent a celebration of the Black body as well as a critique of the fetishization of the Black female form.
Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold have been mentioned as influences by Self as per the contemporary art news resources. Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Thomas Hart Benton are among the artists mentioned by some commentators. I’d want to add the Zimbabwean Weya Women artists to Ringgold and Bearden’s list. Their work grew out of a community workshop that aimed to educate people on how to sew. In fabric wall hangings, the works represent the lives of Zimbabwean women. These works focus on the female experience in Zimbabwe. Appliqué fabric characters go about their daily activities, such as farming, cooking, and raising children. The ideas depicted are frequently highlighted in the work’s titles. Consider Nerissa Mugadza’s novel Life of an Unmarried Woman Without a Child.