How African-American art became a global phenomenon

by Carmen Jhonson

In most cases, people who have been displaced and forcibly moved to a foreign country make every effort to adopt the locals’ culture. The alternative – and it is not a favorable one – is to develop an ignorance of their roots and culture as they prefer their adoptive country’s ways. African-American artists were forced to change their perspectives and presentation of art to sell their pieces. Exemplary samples of African-American artwork are available if you click here. The first unique painting by a leading African-American artist was purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899. This historic purchase triggered a revitalizing era of recognition for Afrocentric art. Let’s focus on a short history of Afrocentric art.

African-American art in the slavery period

In America, the slavery period showcased just how necessary a paradigm shift was in the country’s art scene. Many African-American artists working with canvas adapted their styles to match the country’s accepted forms of art.

It was not uncommon to hear African-American artists describe themselves as “slave artisans who happened to possess skills in art.” In later years, these same artists would call themselves “white family painters.” Others were called “painters of the rich and colorful.” The very best of them received accolades and, eventually, freedom from their teachers.

The period after the civil war

After the Civil War ended, many African-American artists revamped their talents and efforts. In the period leading up to the 1920s, quite a few artists exhibited their works in studios and select museums. In many cases, most of these canvas paintings adhered to the prevailing European styles of the time. This is because the art education that the artists received was predominantly European.

The Renaissance in Harlem

The roaring 20s saw several African-American artists unite to form the Harlem or Black Renaissance movement. The way was exact for the redistribution and research of African-American art in the fine arts (especially canvas paintings), music, literature, and knowledge.

Artists strove to free themselves from foreign influences and worked to create their unique African styles. The 1940s saw the “Great Migration” of African-American people, including famous painters, from the oppressive South.

Barkley Hendricks’ painting titled “Miss T” featured a beautiful portrait of his girlfriend in a regal black dashiki coupled with a full afro. Debuted in the 1970s, this painting was a powerful artistic statement, especially in the backdrop of the tumultuous 60s.

The surge of the Black Power movement corresponded with the resurgence of the Black Arts Movement. A majority of the artists considered African-American art an integral component of the country’s struggle against racism.

Many such artists had the goal of growing black aesthetic themes and to promote the liberation of African-Americans.

The 90s saw the undisputed rise of black female artists. These great pioneers included Deborah Willis, Emma Amos, and Renee Cox. It was at this point that many marginalized artists found the opportunity to break into the mainstream. The resultant exposure generated enough revenue to allow them to live as full-time artists.


The ostracizing of African-Americans from the dominant culture due to slavery led to the development of a distinctly separate culture. African-American artists contributed significantly to the dominant American artistic culture, and this should not be disregarded.

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