These Contemporary Black Female Artists Take The Center Stage on the Art Scene

October 12, 2020

In recent years, contemporary black women artists have been receiving more acclaim than they have in the past. Despite a white-centric and predominantly male art scene, they seek to examine and document the Black experience and the representation of blackness both in the contemporary world and art history.

We bring you a selection of ten contemporary black female artists whose popularity is steadily rising.

The majority of these artists work in portraiture, redefining it and giving new depths to this traditional medium, and are being exhibited in major institutions as we speak.

Featured image: Jennifer Packer - Jordan, 2014. Oil on canvas, 98 x 121.5 cm, 38.6 x 47.8 inches, Courtesy The Artist and Corvi-Mora, London and Sikkema, Jenkins & Co, New York. Photo: Marcus Leith.

Genesis Tramaine

An expressionist and urban devotional painter, Genesis Tramaine is best known for abstract portraits of men and women who transcend gender, race, and social structures. Her distinct style combines the 1980’s urban New York graffiti and imagined images of gospel hymns sung on Sunday morning during church.

As the artist herself explained, she focuses on the shape and definition of the American Black Face, capturing the spirited emotions and underrepresented souls of Black people with exaggerated features. There is also a range of spiritual influences, such as verses from the Bible and other readings she studied in church.

Since September 2020, the artist is represented by Almine Rech in Europe, the United Kingdom and Asia, while in the United States, the gallery will be working in partnership with Richard Beavers Gallery from Brooklyn, who has represented Tramaine since 2018.

Featured image: Genesis Tramaine - Saint. Mother. Mary. BK (Before Kids), 2018, via Instagram.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

A Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles, California, Njideka Akunyili Crosby examines the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, exposing the challenges of occupying these two worlds. Working with collage, drawing, painting, printmaking, and photo transfers, she depicts domestic interiors, lovers, and private social gatherings, telling complex narratives about dislocation and transcultural daily life.

Crosby's work was recently featured in the exhibition Interiorities at Haus der Kunst in Munich. In 2019, she was featured on the TIME 100 NEXT list, and in 2020, she was the 2020 Great Immigrants Recipient, awarded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Featured image: Njideka Akunyili Crosby - Portals, on view at Victoria Miro Gallery booth at The Armory Show, via Instagram.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

A British-Ghanaian painter, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is best known for her enigmatic portraits of fictitious people drawn from found images and her own imagination. These works encourage the viewers to project their own interpretations, and raise important questions of identity and representation. She described her characters as “suggestions of people" that "don’t share our concerns or anxieties."

Yiadom-Boakye's work is currently on view in an exhibition Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League With the Night at Tate Britain in London, which will be on display until 9 May 2021.

Featured image: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at the New Museum, New York, via CTG/SF.

Mequitta Ahuja

A contemporary American painter of African American and South Asian descent, Mequitta Ahuja creates paintings that feature herself as mythic warriors, epic heroes, and power figures descending from traditions across cultures. Drawn from her multicultural heritage, these works evoke the process of identity construction.

Combining different multiple modes of representation, such as abstraction, text, naturalism, schematic description, graphic flatness and illusion, the artist uses painting conventions to forge new meanings. Posing timely questions about the power dynamics in art history, she brings forth contemporary concerns, both personal and painterly, into the centuries old conversation of representation.

Featured image: Mequitta Ahuja - The Italy Drawings - Duomo, 2014, MIA, via Creative Commons.

Jordan Casteel

An American contemporary artist, Jordan Casteel developed a distinctive figurative language of portraiture, capturing her subjects in larger-than-life depictions combined with domestic details and psychological insights. Rooted in community engagement, her portraits portray people from communities in which she lives and works. She uses her own photographs of people she encounters, posing her subjects within their natural environments. Drawing upon ongoing conversations on portraiture that encompass race, gender, and subjectivity, these works reveal her personal observations of the human experience.

Casteel's work was recently on view in an exhibition Jordan Casteel: Within Reach at the New Museum in New York.

Featured image: Jordan Casteel - Within Reach, 2019. Oil on canvas, 35 x 60 in (88.9 x 152.4 cm). The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.

Nina Chanel Abney

The vibrant works of Nina Chanel Abney capture the frenetic pace of contemporary culture. Combining representation and abstraction, she examines diverse subjects such as race, celebrity, religion, politics, sex, and art history. Her works are unapologetic in scale and characterized by bracing color, grounded in the barrage of autobiography, current events, and traditional storytelling. These works echo the perpetual stimulation of the digital age through a distinct a pop-surrealist style featuring cartoonish figures and playful compositions.

The artist's work is currently on view in an exhibition simply titled Nina Chanel Abney at ICA Boston until January 3rd, 2021.

Featured image: Nina Chanel Abney - Forbidden Fruit, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 67 × 77.5 inches (170.2 × 196.9 cm). Collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Warren Brandt and anonymous gift, by exchange. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney.

Jennifer Packer

The oeuvre of Jennifer Packer encompasses portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes, all suggesting a casual intimacy. She uses her friends or family members for the portraits, creating them from authentic encounter and exchange. Her style is characterized by loose lines and brush strokes and a limited color palette, often blending her subjects with their surrounding. She seeks to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.

Packer's work will be featured in Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep at MOCA LA this fall, the first exhibition on the West Coast of the artist’s work. Also, the Serpentine Gallery will host her first institutional solo exhibition in Europe from November 13th, 2020.

Featured image: Jennifer Packer - Tia, 2017. Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 99 cm, 25 x 39 inches, Courtesy: The Artist, Corvi-Mora, London and Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York Photo: Matt Grubb.

Amy Sherald

An American painter based in Baltimore, Amy Sherald is best known for her portrait paintings that document contemporary African-American experience in the United States. Working in a simplified realism from photographs she stages, she paints her vibrantly dressed subjects singly against bright monochrome grounds. These subjects are rendered in grayscale skin tones, excluding the color from the notion of race. In this way, she wants her subjects to become a part of the mainstream art historical narrative.

In 2017, the artist was commissioned to paint an official portrait of Michelle Obama. It was the first time that African-American artists were chosen to paint the portraits of the presidential couple.

Featured image: Amy Sherald - The Bathers, 2015. Oil on canvas, 72 x 67 inches. Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Tschabalala Self

In her practice, Tschabalala Self challenges the legacy of figurative painting by introducing African American narratives that were marginal in the visual arts for a long time. Using both painting and printmaking, she constructs her works out of different elements such as manually printed and found textiles, and techniques ranging from sewing to printmaking. Exploring the emotional, physical and psychological impact of the Black female body as icon, she paints her figures with exaggerated biological characteristics to reflect her own experiences and cultural attitudes toward race and gender.

Self's work was recently on view at in an exhibition titled Tschabalala Self: Out of Body at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Featured image: Tschabalala Self - Bellyphat, 2016. Painted canvas, fabric, oil, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas, 80 × 60 inches (203.2 × 152.4 cm). Collection of Craig Robins.

Toyin Ojih Odutola

A Nigerian-born visual artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York, Toyin Ojih Odutola creates multimedia drawings and works on paper, exploring the malleability of identity and the possibilities in visual story-telling. She works exclusively with drawing materials including pastel and charcoal, playing with the idea that drawing can be a form of storytelling. In her process, she builds up layers on the page, blending and shading with the highest level of detail. She draws from an eclectic range of references, from ancient history to popular culture to contemporary politics, continuing her examinations of narrative, authenticity, and representation.

Odutola's work is currently on view in an exhibition titled Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory at The Barbican in London until 24 January 2021.

Featured image: Toyin Ojih Odutola - Representatives of State (2016-2017) © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Follow These Artists