Black Artists Shaping the World

Image of Black Artists Shaping the World
Release Date: 
November 23, 2021
Thames & Hudson
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Black Artists Shaping the World explains why this global synergy matters and celebrates Black art as a breakthrough from old paradigms.”

A rich and juicy variety of artists graces the pages of Black Artists Shaping the World, offering up enthusiastic inspiration for young people ages nine and up. This may be a book for middle-grade readers but middle-aged ones will be equally impressed.

In a simple but effective design, Black Artists features 26 creatives either from Africa or of African descent. Each artist has a four- to six-page allotment beginning with a black and white photo on a white background with their name in a bold custom headline font. The font color is vibrant, earthy, and unique, selected specifically to highlight the featured artist and used to designate their sections. This design element makes the reader feel the individuality and self-expression of these fabulous people while keeping a cohesive feel throughout the book.

Following the photograph and a very brief biographical introduction, each artist has a full color image(s) of their work along with a description of the piece. The art is fascinating. Readers will not be disappointed by the vast creativity represented here. Jackson’s curating prowess shines through. She no doubt had hundreds of potential artists to cull through. The range included here demonstrates the infinite nature of art mediums far beyond the traditional oil, charcoal, or clay.

El Anatsui is an older gentleman born in Ghana but living in Nigeria who makes works of art from metal bottle caps that he found and linked together with copper wire. He wanted to give the trash a new life with a new meaning. His piece is a huge wall-sized statement assembled by as many as forty assistants each working in “blocks” that are later combined much like quilting does with “squares.”

As El is creating, “He thinks about the people who made the caps, and who drank from the liquor bottles. He thinks about his assistants who shape the caps . . . his work is [also] informed by the slave trade that tied Africa with Europe and the Americas. Liquor was one of the things that Europeans wanted to exchange for goods—and eventually people—in Africa.”   

Several artists draw inspiration from the plight and residual exploitation stemming from slavery. Sonia Boyce (British), Lubaina Himid (Zanzibar-British), Chris Ofili (British), and Faith Ringgold (American) could be examples of art expressing social injustices. Boyce uses multi-media (painting, printmaking, filmmaking, drawing, sound, etc.); Himid creates with wood and paint to make life-sized sculptures; Ofili also utilizes multimedia and even elephant dung to help make a statement. Ringgold is a renowned artist/activist famous for political paintings, sculptures, masks, and quilts.  

Not all African artists are focused on making statements about the politics of their heritage. Some like Amy Sherald (American) and Carrie Mae Weems (American) are ennobling women through painting and photography. Others like Zizipho Poswa (South African) and Kerry James Marshall (American) are interested in growth, beauty, hope, and a vision for a far more equitable future for all humans. Yet all the artists represent the dynamic empowering capacity of art on both personal and societal levels.

There is a soul and a spirit that begins to define “Blackness.” What exactly is meant by this term? Who embodies this Black world the most? Yinka Shonibare speaks directly to this puzzling question. A teacher once asked him why he didn’t make “authentic African art.” He didn’t even know what “authentic” meant. He was, after all, born in London, which was not Africa. Shonibare set out to define that Black for him is an amalgamation. Black is a mishmash of cultures, histories, and personalities. It’s something that hints at the vast diaspora of Black peoples. His piece, Butterfly Kid (Girl) IV, is a stunning multi-media sculpture that is “part Victorian, part African, part Dutch.” Victorian? Dutch? Yes, that, too, fits into the heart of the Black experience.

This elusive concept is why books like Black Artists Shaping the World are so important (and why this title is spot on). After being passively shaped for so long by the world, Black artists are standing up and actively shaping the world for themselves, making beautiful combinations and building relationships that never before existed. Diversity is becoming the norm. It is fascinating and interesting. It is therapeutic and healing. Black Artists Shaping the World explains why this global synergy matters and celebrates Black art as a breakthrough from old paradigms.