15 Upcoming Young Black Artists Making Waves in the Art World

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The beauty of art is that it’s constantly evolving and being pushed to new heights with each new generation of artists. A crop of young black artists, in particular, deserve to be on your radar, adding immeasurably to the artistic dialog with their unique visions and techniques. We’ve already covered under-appreciated black actors as well as some of the greatest black fashion designers, but now it’s time to show some love for talented young visual artists.

Hailing from Nigeria to Tennessee, ranging from sculptors to photographers, these 20 to 30-somethings are well on their way to making names for themselves in the ultra-competitive world of visual art. Some have been blowing up for a while now, others have been getting attention at prestigious art fairs, and others are being selected for highly publicized events like an art exhibition curated by Shaq. Read on to see 15 Young Black Creatives Making Waves in the Art World, just in time for Black History Month.

Awol Erizku

Age: 26
Medium: Photography
Location: New York

Bronx-raised Awol Erizku saw a lack of positive representation for members of his community, particularly in high art. To answer this, Erizku subverts iconic works from the masters of Renaissance art—like Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio—using primarily black models, many of whom he scouts from the streets.

 

Sadie Barnette

 

Age: 30
Medium: Sculpture, installation, photography
Location: Los Angeles

Barnette is a woman of many interests, among them, “extralegal economies, luxury as drug, counterfeit capitalism, glitter as hypnotic, and the party,” to name a few. The California native explores this myriad of concepts with deceptively simple yet visually appealing installations and photographs, inviting viewers to re-examine the material world that we often take for granted.

 

Maya Freelon Asante

 

Age: 32
Medium: Mixed media
Location: Baltimore

Asante comes from a family of artists (father Philip Freelon is an architect and mother Nnenna Freelon is a Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist), so it’s perhaps no surprise that she’s been making waves in the art world, too. Asante is best known for her assemblages of vibrantly colored tissue paper, through which she “explores the complexity and beauty of the world.”

Kevin Beasley

 

Age: 28
Medium: Mixed media
Location: New York

The young sculptor utilizes materials taken out of their original context—like a toothbrush or a sneaker—and remolds them into something that is personal, simultaneously exploring the “urban, postindustrial landscapes” that he calls home, like New Haven, Detroit, and New York. The overall results are whole, fleshed-out creations, despite being composed of fragmented and discarded objects.

 

Allison Janae Hamilton

 

Age: 30
Medium: Photography
Location: New York

Inspired by her roots in the rural American South, Hamilton draws from “magical realism, southern gothic literature, and the carnivalesque,” resulting in dreamlike photographs that juxtapose fiction with reality. In doing so, Hamilton explores concepts of cultural memory, history, and the places of disconnect that often exist between them.

 

Paul Anthony Smith

 

Age: 26
Medium: Paint, picotage
Location: New York

The Miami-raised artist takes ordinary images of people from his birthplace, Jamaica, and renders them in such a way that their forms exude an almost otherworldly dignity. Smith’s process involves scratching at the surface of the photographs, blanketing his subjects with a kind of sparkling vitality.

Nina Chanel Abney

 

Age: 32
Medium: Paint
Location: New York

“Easy to swallow, hard to digest,” is how the artist characterizes her work, which fuses a visually playful, punchy style with more ominous subject matter. Abney’s works invite the viewer to explore ideas of pop culture and taboos through images that are often humorous, sometimes absurd, and always eye-catching.

 

Caitlin Cherry

 

Age: 27
Medium: Paint, mixed media
Location: New York

Cherry combines paintings and installations, inviting the viewer to examine paintings outside of their traditional context. She views her medium as a kind of battlefield in which she “throws [her] ideas at you in a literal, slapstick way.”

 

Sam Vernon

 

Age: 27
Medium: Installation, drawing, photography, collage
Location: New York

Vernon’s works come from “a place of pain,” drawing from themes of oppression, nightmares, and memories. Her creations, although often imposing in size, evoke a haunting sense of fragility.

Lester Merriweather

 

Age: 35
Medium: Paint, collage
Location: Memphis, Tenn.

Using imagery from magazines, Merriweather’s collages recontextualize the shiny, decadent objects that pervade our capitalist society. By deconstructing the material items we lust after, Merriweather brings a new perspective on our understandings of beauty and luxury.

 

Njideka Akunyili

 

Age: 30
Medium: Paint, print, collage
Location: New York

The Nigerian-born Akunyili originally moved to America with plans of becoming a doctor, but eventually chose to pursue a career in art instead. Her works explore the “no man’s land” that naturally arises in the struggle to reconcile her Nigerian and American identities. Her works’ visual aesthetic intends to convey to the viewer that something is “off, or lost” about the complex space that she inhabits.

 

Nikita Gale

 

Age: 26
Medium: Installation, photography
Location: Los Angeles

The Yale grad, after realizing that “corporate America and all that bullshit” was not for her, found clarity and direction in photography. A conceptual artist, Gale’s works examine subjects like advertising, race, and desire, among others. In particular, she is interested in examining language and materials as tools in which we mediate identity and memory.

Jibade Khalil Huffman

 

Age: 33
Medium: Video, photography, installation
Location: Los Angeles

Drawing from his background as a writer, Huffman’s works often juxtapose jarring phrases with images like grainy GIFs or film stills. By combining the two elements, Huffman “pushes the capabilities of text and image,” evoking in his viewers a sense of nostalgia and allowing them to contemplate personal histories and memory-making.

 

Eric Mack

 

Age: 27
Medium: Paint, textiles
Location: New York

Channeling inspiration from his love for fashion, Mack utilizes old clothes and textiles to create works that invoke memory and familiarity. Says the artist of his works, “I want my materials to feel like they come from the everyday.”

 

Tavares Strachan

 

Age: 34
Medium: Installation
Location: New York

Strachan is a conceptual artist whose multimedia installations reveal his fascination for exploration, physical displacement, and the environment. He is perhaps best known for the time he traveled to Alaska and brought back a block of ice, which he then kept refrigerated and exhibited in his birthplace of the Bahamas.

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