8 black artists you should know about on International Women’s Day
Jojo Abot’s work is about self-confidence, autonomy, self-care, pleasure and surrender. Photo credit: David Corio/Redferns
These eight black artists use different mediums to challenge social, racial and sexual perceptions around the world.
It’s International Women’s Day and while we would all do well to appreciate the contributions of women 24/7, today is an especially auspicious day to give flowers to black women artists. who do beautiful and deeply impactful work. On a day meant to celebrate women’s achievements and demand better treatment for women around the world, the eight women below use different mediums to challenge social, racial and gender perceptions around the world. In their work we find freedom – or at least pathways to it. They use clay, paint, fabric, music, film and their own bodies as tools to uplift and support the past, present and future of black women.
This list could, of course, be extremely long. But here are eight we picked this year. In no particular order.
Known primarily for her photographic portraits, Diallo is also a visual artist who uses images to challenge outdated ideas. Or, more specifically, she uses her images to convey truthful ideas from antiquity, ideas that predate colonialism, showing the revelry and reign of black and indigenous women.
The Franco-Senegalese artist has just finished a book entitled Divine, a collection resulting from 12 years of his photographs celebrating the female form. The images not only suggest a connection with their subjects, they demand it. Her work does not sexualize women, but rather shows their sexuality and sensuality. There is a majesty behind every image she produces. The personality of his subjects emanates through the frame. Like Diallo says herself“I don’t take pictures, I give pictures.”
Davis’ Instagram bio reads, “Artist…sort of a writer.” A description that is both precise and a bit cheeky. Although she also creates mixed-media sculptures, Davis is best known for her intricate portraits using text, handwriting, and rubber stamps. Her finished work – paintings, sketches, poems – compels you to see her process. In your mind, you imagine him moving slowly across the canvas, writing a word, name, or phrase over and over like a mantra, focusing on certain areas to create contrast. The high is like time travel, meditation and a challenge to your depth perception. (Also – really, really cool.)
Almost every Davis piece is named after someone – usually a black woman – whose name or initials turn out to be the cornerstone on which her pieces are made. Davis proves time and time again that this person existed as she creates a likeness of it. Repeating their names, declaring them real to the world, and making sure no one can doubt they were there.
Tourmaline is an activist, filmmaker and writer dedicated to uplifting and uplifting black queer and trans people. His work is a mixture of the natural and the material, of the subtle and the austere. While his work captures the power and resilience of the queer community, he also brings the beauty and exaltation of that community to the fore. It’s easy to use the word “shameless” to describe his work, but it’s perhaps more uncompromising. It’s not as much about making viewers feel comfortable celebrating the people inside the frame, whether in a movie or a photograph.
Tourmaline also serves as a historian and archivist, often telling stories of people who have since died but left lasting impacts on the social and civil rights of many. Her work educates and liberates and, at the base of it all, does so with elegance and luxury.
Satti is a ceramic artist originally from Sudan and Somalia, although she grew up between France and Kenya. She now lives in New York. She places the notion of ritual at the center of her work. Not only in the meditative process and commitment she takes to produce her pieces, but also in designing works that fit into our daily rituals at home. It is inspired by indigenous practices such as grain pounding, incense burning, table offerings and spiritual cleansing.
Sharing much of the traditions of East Africa, she says she creates using “deep listening”, a way for her to connect with the ancestors who paved the way by working with clay and earth to make the first objects and vessels by which civilizations and communities were built. His work is a translation of this listening, that of translating the personal ritual into a tangible object.
An American photographer and filmmaker, Wright’s work has an intrinsic and evocative tenderness. His work resembles childhood Sunday afternoons. Deaf explorations of the self. Sweet laughter as you gaze through thin sheets at the world around you. Listening under the table for someone chopping onions for supper. His gaze behind the lens is somewhat childish. Not naive, but harnessing the innocence through which we take the world around us and give it meaning. She combines words and snippets from authority figures (Aretha, Audre, Bell) and connects them to her everyday experiences: a life led as black and in a female body.
“Power to the God Within” is a frequently used affirmation and mantra in Jojo Abot’s work. As a multidisciplinary artist, musician, and designer, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Jojo Abot does besides creating. From music videos and quick Instagram stories to woven tapestries and body art, she uses every avenue possible to communicate her art to the world.
Jojo Abot’s work is about self-confidence, autonomy, self-care, pleasure and surrender. It is in recognizing the beauty in each of us. She shines a light on the impossible stories that have converged to allow us to be here on this Earth in this time and in this way. Her pride is contagious and undeniable, as are the affirmations she weaves through her practice.
Jordan Casteel is a genius — a real, real MacArthur Genie 2021 at the age of 32. So let’s leave that aside. Casteel is a painter who seeks to capture everyday life, the natural comings and goings of human beings. Many of her paintings are of subjects she encounters or observes on the street – say sleeping on the New York City subway or perched outside a corner store – but others are moments of stolen privacy. Family portraits of generations, the careful placement of magazines on a grandmother’s bedside table. In these paintings, Casteel captures the essence of “still life”. We can build the world around which these moments unfolded, hear the child squealing in her mother’s lap, or hear the kettle whistle in the background as this grandmother prepares her tea before retiring to bed and his magazines. Casteel’s paintings expand our world by focusing on the details of it.
His technique is also catchy. Somewhat geometric and stuffy, its colors give the impression that they shouldn’t blend naturally and yet they do. His works come to life as the eye travels over them, filling in the blanks, creating movement and, perhaps most excitingly, making it difficult to place Casteel’s work in a specific era. She shows people as they are in the environments they find themselves in and, by putting them on canvas, she makes all those people and all those moments important.
Virtue, heritage, and caring for black hair are incredibly important to black women. Susan Oludele and her team do not take the task lightly. Her work is vibrant and alive while harnessing a soft elegance and strength. Known as “Hair by Susy”, Oludele is a Nigerian-American who specializes in creating hair masterpieces. Whether it’s color, braids, bobs, twists, locs, cornrows, updos, accessories or whatever you want to serve as your body’s north star, Oludele creates with simplicity and beauty.
It’s no wonder some of the most iconic people have worked with her. People whose own work challenges gender norms and raises the standards of beauty in the cosmos. You’ve seen her work on heads as famous as Jeremy O’Harris, Rico Nasty, Princess Nokia, Zoë Kravitz, Solange and Beyoncé.
Nereya Otieno is a writer, thinker, and ramen eater currently based in Los Angeles.