Many more black artists could have been recognized and even celebrated as the traditional masters of the art word are today, had it not been for the color of their skin. Black artists try to penetrate the stereotype and show that despite the difficulties, we deserve recognition and praise for continuously navigating challenges to our breakthrough and longevity in the art world. We oftentimes end up negotiating our identity, rarely breaking the glass ceiling to success and even stardom as a result of the compromise we are ushered to embrace.
[When The Rain Comes- Adrian Blake]
The struggle to define oneself being a black artist, and to find one’s identity in the art world that will propel us on a global scale is not something that is taught or even attained via a degree from a prestigious institution. I believe that success is innate in us, but suppressed. It is manifested eventually through embracing our black history, applying knowledge from our experiences and understanding the minutiae of our existence and individual calling as black artists. But more importantly, having the desire to change the disproportionate balance of power that has played a role in our endeavors.
The negotiation of identity for black artists is far more complicated however, because we are constantly being steered towards what is commercially profitable or towards social acceptance. That is the experience of the black artist. It does not necessarily point us toward our own talent and freedom of expression; which if widely accepted, would be a conduit to the fulfillment of being revered as great artistic minds throughout history. So many black artists nowadays are embattled between simply being refered to as an artist and being identified as a black artist, as if being referred to as just an “artist” gives a subliminal validation of acceptance.
[Kehinde Wiley. Photo by Chad Batka]
Artists such as Kehinde Wiley challenged “the visual vocabulary and conventions of glorification, history, wealth and prestige” – kehindewiley.com using images of black and brown men and women throughout the world. He being the consummate modern day (black) master portraitist, surpassing the archetypal role of black artists throughout history, sets the bar high, because of bold and historic artistic statements in his works. His initiative to educate those like him to aspire to greatness through self discovery and acceptance is profound. He refused to negotiate his identity; embracing his black history, applying his knowledge and understanding that his existence as a black man is in need of representation in art.
[Artwork by Kehinde Wiley]
As we evolve as artists, especially black artists it is our duty to counter those longstanding stereotypes and break the glass ceiling that cripples our creativity, in hopes of changing minds and opening doors that have long been kept shut. Remain steadfast in your creative freedom, refuse to succumb to the pressure of creating mere ‘popular’ art and art for arts sake.