When I wrote Black Art & Artists to Inspire Kids, I discovered so many amazing artists and I couldn’t wait to write this second part and learn even more.
In my research I discovered, unsurprisingly, that many acclaimed black artists emerged in the 1960s, when there was huge social and cultural unrest and calls for change. As such, this post contains 6 black, female artists who all worked in the 1960s and beyond.
These 6 women are all inspiring, talented, thoughtful, clever and empowered artists. They make up a fantastic selection of artists to inspire and influence children and young people of all ages, not only with their visual talent, but with their desire to tell stories and send messages with they art.
Let me know what you think in the comments, share any work you do from this list, and feel free to offer any suggestions of other artists to follow – I am more than happy to say that I have a lot to learn on this subject and appreciate any ideas!
Elaine “Jae” Jarrell was born in 1935 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio in the USA. Known as Jae Jarrell, she is an American artist best known for her fashion designs and her involvement with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.
In 1968 Jae Jarrel became one of the founding members of AfriCOBRA (the Afican Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), alongside Wadsworth Jarrell, (make Sun Art inspired by Wadsworth Jarrell), Geralds Wiliams and Barbara Jones-Hogu (featured later in this post)
As part of their manifesto, Jarrell strived to provide positive representation of the African diaspora. Her goal was to produce textile art and garments that inspired pride, power, energy, and respect in African American communities.
” I am the granddaughter of a tailor, and though I never met him – he had passed by the time I was born – my mother always shared with me the wonderful workman- ship that he taught all of his children. So I’ve always been mindful of fabrics, recognising different fibres, weaves, classic dress…”
Jarrell made her own fabric to make artistic garments that represented the African American community. Her most famous piece was ‘Urban Wall Suit’ (shown on the right in the image above), which was inspired by urban walls which had been spray-painted with questions and messages. Jarrell describes this piece as “a voice of the community and a voice to the community.” She used velvet, fabric scraps and paint to put this piece together.
To find out more about Jae Jarrell, this is a great published interview with her, which I encourage you to read.
Ideas to try:
- Try making experimental collages with scraps of fabric and ribbon. For older/able children, consider sewing the fabric scraps together, rather than sticking.
- Have a go at fabric painting. It feels very different to painting on paper. Experiment, have fun!
- Use words to make art- either adding to the collage above, or simply on some coloured paper. Cut up words from magazines, use stencils, or try hand lettering.
- For older children, develop this by asking them to think about their community or family, and to find words and sentences that represent them. You could take a walk in your neighbourhood and take photographs of graffiti art, or other messages you find.
- Develop a community project with an older class or group that uses fabric and text to represent their own community and gives people a voice. Discuss visual representations, colour, symbolism. Encourage them to advocate for others who may not feel they have a voice.
Emma Amos was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in 1937. An enthusiastic artist from an early age, Amos went on to study art, etching, and printmaking in Ohio, London and New York.
Amos’ work is intellectually complex and interesting, and is “quintessentially postmodern because she questions the validity of… traditions and institutions that for so long have been biased against the inclusion of women and artists of color, especially blacks” – Sharon Patton.
Amos’ works often reference white male artists, such as Paul Gaugin, Lucian Freud, and Henri Matisse, as well as styles, symbols and subject matter from European art. She does this in a way that challenges the primarily white world of art, whilst interweaving her own African American culture into her work.
“By addressing sexism, racism and stereotypes around Black feminism, her paintings offer the kind of resilience and optimism for change that is so relevant and important now.” – Vogue
Amos is known for her mixed media art that often depicted clothed figures, as the clothes could represent culture, such as Eva the Babysitter, as pictured above.
She combined printmaking, painting and textile in her works, usually on linen, large scale, and unframed. She used acrylic paint, etching, silkscreen, collagraph, photo transfer effects with iron-on fabric, and African textiles. As well as bordering her paintings with African fabric, Amos appliqued, embroidered and occasionally quilted with her own weavings, Kente cloth and batiks.
Ideas to try:
- Make borders with cultural appropriate fabric.
- Make portraits (or self-portraits) where the clothing is significant and says something about the person in the portrait.
- Experiment with fabric based techniques such as batik (wax resist), appliqué and embroidery.
- Combine textile art with more traditional painting or printmaking techniques. For example, appliqué over a painting on canvas, or embroider details onto a portrait.
- For older children, encourage them to take stylistic or symbolic elements from a traditional white male artist, such as Van Gogh or Picasso, and use them or over-exaggerate them to represent their own individuality, culture, or community. You could add in a fabric border too, or other textile elements.
Lorraine O' Grady
Lorraine O’ Grady was born in 1934, in Boston, USA. She is an American artist, writer, translator, and critic. Working in conceptual art and performance art that integrates photo and video installation, she explores the cultural construction of identity – particularly that of Black female subjectivity. O’ Grady did not become an artist until the 1980s, and had her first exhibition when she was 45 years old.
One of O’ Grady’s most acclaimed pieces of work is her live, participatory, and performative, ‘Art Is…’. This consisted of a parade float that she entered in the annual African American Day Parade in Harlem, which held an empty nine-by-fifteen foot-gold-wooden wooden picture frame. O’Grady, there herself as the character, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, she had also hired 15 young Black performers who walked and danced alongside the float, carrying smaller golden frames that they held up before members of the crowd. The performance not only encouraged onlookers – primarily people of colour – to consider themselves art, but also drew attention to racism in the art world. You can view more photographic stills from the performance here.
Ideas to try:
- Make or decorate large picture frames. You could use wood, paper mâché, or cardboard, and gold paint.
- Give children a frame (or the ones they have made themselves) and ask them to explore their surroundings and see what makes art when it is put in the frame? They can work in pairs and one person can hold the frame and the other could take a photograph. Remind children there is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding what makes art for them.
- Do the same as above, but with a larger group of people (on a school playground, a party, in the park) and include portraits and self portraits in the idea. Make sure those being put in the frame have consented to it.
- Discuss why it is important for a wide variety of people to be represented and “framed” in art.
- Make a huge frame for your classroom or group space, and use it sporadically as and when the moments feel right. Document the tableaus and pictures you make.
Barbara Jones Hogu
Barbara Jones-Hogu was born in 1938 in Chicago, Illinois, USA, where she also achieved a degree and a masters in Fine ART. In 1968, Hogu co-founded AfriCOBRA, and before this she was a member of OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture).
Members of AfriCOBRA visually expressed the central ideas of the Black Power movement – self-determination, unity, and black pride. The group shared the idea that their art should be uplifting, highlighting the beautiful and heroic aspects of African American experience, and should be easy for ordinary people to understand. Hogu said that being part of AfriCOBRA made her make art in a much more positive way than she had before.
Barbara Jones-Hogu combined painting, printmaking and graphic lettering to produce striking and vibrant pieces of art that focused on empowerment and unity.
Some of the printmaking techniques included woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screen prints. }
Ideas to try:
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Betye Irene Saar (born July 30, 1926) is an African-American accomplished artist known for her work in the medium of assemblage, printmaking, and visual storytelling. Saar was a part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s, which engaged myths and stereotypes about race and femininity, and her work was considered highly political as she challenged negative ideas about African Americans throughout her career.
Saar created colour etchings, ink drawings, and intaglio prints that shifted her practice away from design into fine art. Her experiments throughout the 1960s led to her embrace of assemblage, a medium that allowed her to make densely layered works with an equally complex variety of autobiographical and political undertones.
Saar was also influenced by Joseph Cornell’s practice of collecting and arranging found objects into assemblage boxes. She inserted her own prints and artwork into window and door frames, as with Black Girl’s Window (pictured above); an iconic autobiographical work that also signalled a new interest in addressing race and contemporary events in her art.
She has also repeatedly turned to her family and their history as sources for her work. For example, fragments of letters and family photographs framed by a pair of women’s gloves. The intimacy and scale of Saar’s work encourages a personal connection to the artist and her experiences.
Ideas to try:
- Encourage students to bring in, or find, some objects that they feel connected to, or that represent them.
- Experiment with assembling the items, you could try a simple Flat Lay. If you have access to frames, or display boxes, you could use these too.
- Use coloured paper to collage in a similar way to Betye Saar’s pictures above. Encourage the use of contrasting colours, or bright colours on black.
- To develop the collaging and assemblage, add found images from magazines, old postcards, photographs, etc. Or encourage students to draw, paint or even make prints to add to their work.
- Explore the use of motifs – in Saar’s work you can see the repetition of sun, moons and stars. Use a mixture of found and created images to create and develop repetitive motifs.
- Try simple printmaking techniques, such as potato printing, sponge printing, engraving into polystyrene, or embossing wood with wool or foam to make stamps. Encourage children to think of their own ways to make prints .
Faith Ringgold, born 1930 in Harlem, New York, is a painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, and lecturer. She studied visual art in New York in the 1950s. Ringgold has received 23 Honorary Doctorates. As well as being an acclaimed artist and performance artists, Ringgold has also written and illustrated 17 children’s books.
Like many other artists, particularly black and female artists, Ringgold was inspired to make political art in the 1960s, as there was so much social movement and a widespread call for reformation in culture and society. “( … ) it was the 1960s and I could not act like everything was okay. I couldn’t paint landscapes in the 1960s – there was too much going on. This is what inspired the American People Series.”
In the early 1970’s Ringgold began making tankas (inspired by a Tibetan art form of paintings framed in richly brocaded fabrics). In 1980, in collaboration with her mother, she made her first quilt, Echoes of Harlem. The quilts were an extension of her tankas from the 1970s. These paintings were not only bordered with fabric but were entirely quilted. She felt she could tell more stories with quilts and that they possessed a more feminine quality.
Ringgold’s quilts all depict strong female characters, often black women who were dedicating themselves to social change. The quilt stories also redirects the male gaze, and harnesses the immersive power of historical fantasy and childlike imaginative storytelling.
Ideas to try:
- If you have the expertise and materials, try some simple quilting techniques.
- Use scraps of fabric, paper, magazine cut outs to make a Ringgold inspired collage. Notice the patterned or floral borders, followed inside by a strip fo tex, and then the main image.
- Print or paint your own fabric. Experiment with different printmaking ideas, paints, and other materials.
- Encourage children to think about strong female characters that inspire them. Ask them to make portraits of these women. You could ask them to incorporate some text into a border too.
- For older students, facilitate them making a Ringgold style quilt, using the ideas above.
I hope these 6 artists and their work will give you some inspiration in your home or classroom! I’d love to see any work that you or your children create from this; I’m always happy to read comments or emails!
I am already planning part 3!
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