Artistic Depictions of Black Love
At Artsper, we want to delve into the subject of Black love in its rich variety of artistic depictions. Black love and joy are often overshadowed by a discussion surrounding oppression. It must be stated that the inequity faced by those in the African diaspora is in no way to be undermined. However, injustice should equally not overshadow a celebration of Black culture within the artistic realm and beyond.
Changing the conversation
Whilst some may say that within the artistic realm, love exists beyond race, this is particularly ignorant of the white Euro-centric tradition that is associated with the art world. The belief that depictions of love in art exist without consideration of race and diversity appears naive to a history of systemic discrimination towards Black artists that this system has propagated for centuries.
Throughout the history of art when love and Blackness are depicted together by a white author, there is often a hyper-sexualization of the Black body. Artists like Faith Ringgold are determined to fight against this. For example, Ringgold portrays a pure and joyous image of Black love in her painting Somebody Stole My Heart, 2004.
In order to examine depictions of Black love, references to important movements that have affected Black identity must be evoked. In the more distant past with the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 60s as well as more recently — such as the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and countless others — systemic injustices have come to engrain upon Black consciousness. This plays an important influence upon the portrayal of Black love in art.
At Artsper, we champion the evolution of the art world. We hold an ardent belief in reform from a space serving the privileged minority transformed into one accessible to all. By fighting for equity in the art world, we aim to give greater visibility to emerging Black artists on Artsper. Let’s dive into some artistic depictions of Black love exemplified by pieces of artwork available on Artsper and beyond.
Art as an expression of love
Art is first and foremost a means of expression. Since its creation, art has existed as an outsource for emotional articulation, both as a means of celebration but as an outcry of desperation. This can be compared to the origination the Blues in the deep south of America. While people often struggle to express their truth through words, art offers an outlet for intimate expression. As such, art offers a liberation from emotional struggle. Many BIPOC artists have sought solace in the creative arts as a way of processing the racial discrimination faced. This is dually used as an outlet to express the myriad of joyous celebrations.
Dismantling the white gaze…
In creative fields, the white gaze has long determined the narratives that are heard, the beliefs that are valued and the ideas that are deemed worthy of being remembered in art history. It is a sad fact that a white consciousness has been the default in artistic expression since its creation. A white Euro-centric artistic tradition has enforced a seemingly immutable norm of BIPOC artists; those who almost always cast in secondary roles to the predominantly white stars of the Western canon.
Today, many artists are actively resisting this hegemonic ideology, creating work that speaks directly to a Black audience, to a Black gaze. Through more BIPOC creatives entering into the artistic scene, an invitation extends to the viewer to discuss intersectional issues surrounding race. Readdressing the previous discourse around Black people as victims of an unjust system, artists choose to instead focus on love and the many other facets of personhood that celebrate so much more than the hurt.
…in favor of the Black gaze
By dismantling stereotypes of the canon and challenging the history of power structures, BIPOC artists highlight the subject of joy. Love serves as a primary as celebration of individualistic personhood for diverse audience enjoyment. Importantly, this should not be forgotten in the pursuit of commercial gain or otherwise add to the long list of occurrences of the exploitation of the Black community.
Kerry James Marshall is one such artist who dismantles the white gaze in the artistic tradition. He creates racially-conscious art pieces that question the historical marginalization of African Americans from the artistic canon. Vignette (Wishing Well) (2010) is thematically related to the artist’s long-running series of caricature paintings. The series imitates well-known historical art movements of the European tradition. In this painting, the artist adopts the artistic conventions commonly seen in French Rococo painting of the 1700s. A style that emphasized love, frivolity and decadence. Marshall goes against the artistic norm with his inclusion of Black figures as the central subject matter. He does this to better convey racial prejudice embedded in art history, while also depicting a flirtatious and loving scene. The central figure wishes in a well, rejecting eye contact with the viewer as well as her voyeur.
A Certain Kind of Love
Furthermore, artist Carrie Mae Weems‘ work underpins everything surrounding Black love. Known for her seminal “Kitchen Table Series,” her work is celebrated today as an important touchstone in the self-representation of Black womanhood. Weems’ works vary in the heaviness of their tone. The artist has proven that her work can oscillate between profundity centered around dark subject matters and works of playfulness that build upon a strong element of romance and platonic love. In her 2001 exhibition entitled “A Certain Kind of Love,” at P.C.O.G. Gallery (Harlem), Weems saw a uniting theme of love emerging out of her artistic exploration of Black history. Through a focus upon the social and political marginalization, Weems feels that the subject of love transcends all struggle.
A further history of Black art
The pieces featured in this article touch the surface of the wealth of Black art. Much like you cannot generalize art by a nation, you cannot and must not generalize art by a race. Some forms of Black art include African art which describes the modern and historical paintings, sculptures, installations and other forms of visual culture of native or indigenous Africans and the African continent. This definition may also include art from African diasporas, such as African American art, Caribbean art, or art from South American societies inspired by African traditions.
Despite this diversity, unifying artistic themes are present when considering the totality of the visual culture of the African continent. While African American art of the 18th and 19th centuries continued to reflect African artistic traditions, the earliest fine art made by professional African American artists was in an academic Western style. In the early 20th century, the most important aesthetic movement in African American art was the Harlem Renaissance or the ‘New Negro’ movement of the 1920s.
The future of Black art
What remains the struggle of Black artists and cultural leaders is visibility in the art market. At Artsper, we value equity in art and the opening up of the art world so that more voices can be heard. This includes highlighting exciting new prospects of the Black abstract movement and other emerging artists. Black artistry often incarnates the hope of producing conversations about race relations, both contemporary and historical. At its core, artistic depictions of Black love celebrate experience and worth, a feeling we’ll continue highlight.
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