Art has always been a medium of expression, communication and revolution!
Art has thus also been a great weapon used against racism with valor by many black artists across the globe.
Contemporary black artists who rewired the perspective of art in the art community also dedicated their art for a cause.
This cause is something that not everyone will understand, but their art is definitely for everyone to understand.
To this date, the discrimination against people of color painfully prevails, but that does not stop modern black artists who fight against these injustices!
How many black contemporary artists do you know?
Did you know that there are a tremendous number of talented female artists among them?
I have crafted a list of 21 contemporary black artists who introduced the art community to a whole new perspective of art by black artists.
Art gave them a voice like no other medium when the world repeatedly showered them with barbaric acts of racism.
Each and every one of them will speak a million things and resonate with you.
Aren’t you excited to know about them? Let’s jump right into it!
Table of contents
- 1. Bisa Butler
- 2. Carrie Mae Weens
- 3. Mickalene Thomas
- Fun Fact:
- 4. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
- 5. Ronni Nicole Robinson
- 6. Amy Sherald
- 7. Genesis Tramaine
- 8. Wangari Matheng
- 9. Jordan Casteel
- 10. Somaya Critchlow
- 11. Kenturah Davis
- 12. Jack Whitten
- 13. Tajh Rust
- 14. Kehinde Wiley
- 15. Henry Taylor
- 16. Kassou Seydou
- 17. Gerald Lovell
- 18. Arcmanoro Niles
- 19. Yinka Shonibare
- 20. Horace Pippin
- 21. Chris Ofili
Top Female Contemporary Black Artists
Being a woman of color meant having to face discrimination and inequality on more levels than one!
In a world that is predominantly patriarchal, racist and hopeless in many ways, women too found their strength in their art.
If you want to experience some of the best artwork filled with colors, queerness, resilience, and bravery, then these women, famous black artists today will shock you.
We have some extremely talented women in the list of contemporary black artists whose artwork is meant to be experienced by everyone.
1. Bisa Butler
One of the most famous fiber artists from the African American community is Bisa Butler, who transformed the art form of quilting by inventing a brand-new subgenre.
Her portraits are vibrant, quilted works that celebrate black life and portray the everyday lives of common black people.
Through these artworks, Bisa aimed to tell the stories that “have been forgotten over time.”
Even the essence of African textiles and conventional jewel tones are used to depict the skin tone of her subjects.
During an interview, she even stated that, as a child, she always enjoyed watching her mother and grandmother sew on cloth and that she always enjoyed quilting.
Imagine, quilting memories from childhood drove her whole passion in art!
Because of her passion for sewing and quilting, she later went on to major in fine arts and graduated with a Magna Cum Laude from Howard University.
Here she studied the works of Romare Bearden and attended lectures by other contemporary black artists like Lois Mailou Jones.
After a stint in the art world, she completed her master’s degree in art education from Montclair State University in 2004.
She also had her first solo museum, which featured many of her artworks like The Mighty Gents, Three Kings, and The Safety Patrol and gained a lot of attention.
In 2018, her exhibition at EXPO Chicago, a Black History Month exhibition in New Jersey in 2019, and her artworks in books like “Journey of Hope” were some of the most fantastic contemporary artworks that won tons of hearts.
Her art is definitely a personal favorite for the hues, patterns and versatility it holds!
2. Carrie Mae Weens
One of the most famous contemporary black artists, Carrie Mae Weems is infamous for her works in text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation videos.
Her fame is mostly credited to her portrayal of the grievances the black community faces day in and day out.
If you want to witness artworks that take huge jabs at racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity, Mae Weems is your person!
In one of her recent interviews, she clearly stated that the main objective of her artwork is to lift the status of the African American community in the USA.
Eventually, she decided to continue her art schooling, graduating from the California Institute of Arts at the age of 28.
In 1983, she completed her first panels of photographs and texts called Family Pictures and Stories.
It focused on the story of her family and the general movement of black families out of the South and into the North.
But despite the efforts, the first retrospective of her work opened in 2012 at the Frist Center for the National Arts in Nashville.
3. Mickalene Thomas
Mickalene is known as one of the most famous women who is a black contemporary artist and is renowned for her works with multiplex words.
She’s popular for using acrylic, rhinestones, and enamel to visually increase the appeal of her contemporary artworks.
Furthermore, it is drawn from western art history and pop art paintings.
In addition, it discusses gender issues as well as ideas about beauty, race, and sexuality.
Being a model, her mother exposed her and her brother to art at an early age and then enrolled them in after-school programs at the Newark Museum and the Henry Street Settlement.
Apart from that, Mickalene indulged herself in the study of pre-law and theater arts in the early 90s.
Her depictions of African American women engage in their identity and explore the representation of their femininity and black power.
As a result, her most famous contemporary black artist paintings—the Kitchen Series and Ain’t Joking Series—were featured by the Portland Art Museum in 1994.
In her 2017 solo exhibition, “Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities,” Mickalene portrayed the power of black women by giving the narrative of their lives through multimedia installations.
Did you know that her painting of the then-first lady, Michelle Obama, is the first of its kind and is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery?
Mackalene is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, but the most prominent of them are the Bomb Magazine Honor (2015), the MoCADA Artists Advocacy Award (2015), and the Timehri Award for Leadership in the Arts (2010).
Today she is also known to be one of the most famous black abstract painters.
Recommended Read: 18 Famous Abstract Painters Who Liberated the Art World.
4. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is one of the most exceptional British painters and writers.
And yes, she is also one among the most famous contemporary black artists!
She is known for her portraits of imaginary subjects, which are painted in muted colors.
But most of her famous paintings of all time are the ones that actually played a key role in the painting of the black figure.
Later in 2017, she created her own show, which brought about a new shift in the colors of her artwork.
They host with more of a warm tone now, and her subject includes more vibrant details like checkered floors, detailed expressions, and colorful backgrounds.
Most of her paintings contain only one subject, but if held together, they seem like one big family portrait, and that’s what makes her one of the most famous contemporary artists.
Owner of many accolades, Lynette has also won the Turner Prize and the Carnegie Prize.
5. Ronni Nicole Robinson
Ronni Nicole Robinson, or the “Forever Florist,” as she is most famously known online, has gathered a cult-like following all over the world.
Robinson is one of the most influential contemporary black artists of the time!
When asked about her artwork, she referred to them as “flower fossils,” as they are known to have been nature inspired and mostly consisted of flowers as their subjects.
She was known to have a liking for flowers from her childhood; she’d say that since she could remember, she had always been into drawing flowers.
Her technique involves laying out a piece of clay and taking impressions of it.
How cool is that right?
Since 2019, she has also added paper relief impressions to her repertoire.
6. Amy Sherald
Amy Sherald is an African American contemporary artist best known for her realistic depictions of black people’s daily lives and their experiences in her paintings.
This modern black artist’s works are mostly famous for using grisaille to represent the skin tones of her subjects in her paintings.
Her evident intentions to challenge conventions about racism drove her towards her art.
Thanks to her incredible artwork, she is one of the most famous contemporary black artists to be known.
She’d spend most of her time in Baltimore, where she’d capture photos of the black people in the United States.
This photographing strangers was done so that they could be the subjects for her paintings.
In 2016, Sherald became the first black woman to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition with her painting, “Miss Everything.”
Fun fact: Barack Obama, the then-president, and Michelle Obama, the first lady, chose her to paint their official portraits as a result of the awards she received.
She was also the first black artist to receive this call-up, making her a true role modern for all black artists today!
7. Genesis Tramaine
One of the most famous contemporary black artists, Tramaine is known for the provocative use of color and the confrontational nature of her paintings.
An expressionist devotional painter who is known for creating famous abstract paintings of people
This included everyone, men and women who transcended gender, race, and the social structure of society.
Her works are powerfully influenced by the bible verses and her studies on churches.
The spiritual influences had a lasting impact on the depth and meaning of her paintings.
She was internationally recognized for her first solo exhibition, which was held at Almine Rech in London in February 2020.
Nowadays, most of her work resides in prominent museum collections like the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Suggested Read: Who was Mark Rothko?: A Life History of an Abstract Artist
8. Wangari Matheng
Wangari Mathenge’s artworks are all about capturing simple moments in life.
This famous black artist’s artwork primarily consists of her family but also includes random life events.
She is not only expressing herself but also transposing it into a typical black person’s life, so it kind of serves as the catharsis of the situation.
It’s as if she is trying to tell the story of her own life through her contemporary artwork.
This unique feature is what made her one of the most famous contemporary black artists!
She intends to use her background in business and law and her defiant attitude toward women to portray the strength and self-possession of women.
Embracing and expressing her own culture and style to create black modern art!
In 2019, she joined the MFA painting and drawing program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.
You can find some of her works held in private collections in Africa, Europe, and North America.
9. Jordan Casteel
Jordan Casteel is an African-American figurative artist and she is known for painting intimate portraits of friends, lovers, family, and even strangers.
After graduating from Yale, she moved to New York. Here she held her first exhibition which was called Invisible Man.
It portrayed a large number of large murals, mostly nude paintings, of black seated men in various places in their homes.
This was because she was exploring the balance between sexuality and sensuality in both her subjects and her viewers.
Nevertheless, most of this contemporary black artist’s work comes from personally taken photographs of her subjects.
entangle a deeper meaning and target representation of her surroundings.
Some of Casteel’s famous black modern art now hang in various museums and galleries around the world.
Suggested Read: Famous Louvre Paintings That You Shouldn’t Miss!
10. Somaya Critchlow
Somaya is recognized for her paintings of black women from the Renaissance and the Rococo tradition, as well as her small, portable portraits.
Are you surprised why Critchlow is in the list of famous black painters today?
She skillfully blended high and low culture to create a glorious representation of black womanhood and to portray their struggles.
A true revolutionary, I’d say!
While learning, she also created voluptuous paintings that combined the art of Renaissance masters like Diego Velazquez and Rubens.
Considered to be one of the most famous contemporary black artists, she created a captivating, female-dominated universe in her paintings
Some of her most recent exhibitions include Women Painting Women, Texas: The Soul as Sphere, and Mixing It Up: Painting Today!
11. Kenturah Davis
Kenturah Davis is a famous contemporary black artist who is known for working between Ghana and Los Angeles.
Each of her black contemporary art tells a story through words.
By layering oil paints over stamped letters, she creates empathetic marks all over the painting.
This gives the impression that the text is a web of threads weaving into a portrait.
The majority of her other works also alternate between various portrait and design facets.
But by using textual methods, she strips away the color part of art.
Instead she focuses more on the construction of her personal and collective identities.
This modern black artist imbibes her work with more inspirational quotes and mantras.
Her artworks are some of the most unique and coveted, making her one of the most famous African American artists of the 21st century.
And now, departing from our queens, it’s time for the kings of contemporary art to showcase their unique artworks.
Top Male Contemporary Black Artists
We live in a world where someone is judged based on their color before seeing what their skills are.
And in such a world, black artists have struggled to pave their way to find their place through art.
Contemporary black artists have moved with the change of the world and battled against racism using their artistic skills.
And what do we see in their art?
Them proudly celebrating their skin and questioning one of the biggest social issues that still prevails everywhere on the globe!
Because of their art, their voices are definitely reaching millions, and that itself is a step towards victory.
That said, let us look at some of the male contemporary black artists who contributed to their movement.
12. Jack Whitten
Known for his innovative manipulations of acrylic paint and interest in materials that are not commonly found in art, we have a maestro here.
Jack Whitten is considered one of the most influential contemporary black artists to have ever touched a canvas.
Although contemporary, most of his artworks were based on the principles of abstraction of art, which he infused with “truth and soul.”
A modern black artist with a traditional touch of technique, that’s Whitten for you.
In the early 1960s, most of Whitten’s work was said to have a feathery and soft effect.
This was the result of a new technique he discovered in which he placed a nylon mesh fabric over the wet acrylic paint.
He would also use different tools across the surface of his art in motions to give depth to his paintings.
Throughout Whitten’s long career, he only cared about techniques, materials, and his relationship to the inspirations of his contemporary works.
At times, he would dabble in photography and printmaking and eventually experiment with gestural strokes in his artwork.
In 2015, he was also awarded the National Medal of Arts Award for brilliantly portraying the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
13. Tajh Rust
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Rust is said to investigate the concept of representation and environmental portrait paintings drawn on films.
He is definitely one of the most unique contemporary black artists from our list.
He is said to develop his artworks framed with the interior as well as exterior spaces and complement perfectly with their subjects.
This method also explores the relationship between the black colors used by the contemporary black artist and the empty white space on the canvas.
How intriguing, right?
He is also said to have worked in other contemporary arts like multimedia assemblage to express the effects of American Expressionism in modern-day America.
His most recent works are said to have been influenced by his stay at the residence of another famous contemporary black artist, Kehinde Wiley, in Senegal.
14. Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley is the most revered African American painter and is mostly known for his portrait of then-US President Barack Obama.
His artworks mostly blur the boundary between traditional and contemporary modes of representation.
It is this brilliance in his art style and techniques that make him the most influential among the contemporary black artists.
He creates a fusion of period styles and influences from Islamic culture, architecture, and west African textile design.
But apart from the background, the foreground of his paintings consists of black protagonists in his old master paintings.
They are based on the photographs of young men whom he saw on the streets.
He wanted to tell their story and the hardships African Americans faced in a White dominated society.
He describes his approach as “interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical or complicit.”
The figurative sort of his paintings quote “ Historical sources and position young black men within that field of power”.
Along with Amy Sherald, he was the first black artist to paint the portrait of an American president and display it in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
In October of 2011, Wiley received the Teacher of the Year award from the New York City Art Teachers Association.
Fun fact: Two of his paintings were featured on the top 500 New York City taxicabs in early 2011.Today he is one of the most famous painters from the black community!
15. Henry Taylor
Born in 1958, Henry Taylor is an American artist, as well as a painter.
He is famously known for his acrylic paintings, mixed media sculptures and installations.
His acrylics got a lot of attention because they were able to maintain an impossible balance between careful and sophisticated references to art world traditions and natural expression.
His contemporary artwork boasts subjects like his family, friends, and strangers he met on the streets of California.
The message that he wanted to convey through his paintings was that of an imaginary world that consisted of even famous professional sports heroes and cultural figures.
This contemporary black artist’s famous painting, “Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas”.
An imaginary depiction of his visit to the Obama family!
But now some of his recent works feature the harsh reality of today’s world, focusing on shootings, corruption, and racism.
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16. Kassou Seydou
Kassou Seydou is one of the most famous literary painters of the current generation.
Did you know that his paintings are called “writings in the world”?
This modern black artist’s artwork narrates the vision of the ideal world through his eyes.
Each painting is a combination of symbols that match the elements of the contemporary black artist’s grammar and form.
The main goal of the artist is to make us decipher the actual meaning behind the paintings and symbols.
These symbols sometimes cross the line, making the painting go in an almost abstract direction.
17. Gerald Lovell
For Gerald Lovell, who is relatively new to the painting scene, painting is an act of biography.
This contemporary black artist is mostly known as an impasto artist who adds thick layers of paint to the skin of the subjects of his paintings.
Because most of his subjects are African Americans, he emphasizes their skin color, thereby emphasizing the racism they face today.
Every act by these black contemporary artists holds meaning that is beyond just art.
The way he selects the shades of his colors gives a dynamic touch to his paintings.
This helps in bringing out the emphasis on skin color.
18. Arcmanoro Niles
Acmanoro Niles is a representational figurative painter!
He is known for his vividly colored works that challenge our perceptions of conventional painting genres.
His paintings are intensely personal, engaging the viewer in universal subjects of family life while making references to the history of painting.
Not only does he portray those who are close to him, but also those who take up the majority of his mental space.
The best part about his paintings is that they actually persuade viewers to think about events that have occurred before or after the scene.
Arcmanoro’s works made it to countless public and private collections, including the Aishti Foundation and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
Which is why he is one of the most famous contemporary black artists today.
19. Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare is the pinnacle of inspiration for all the differently abled people all around the world.
Having one side of his body completely paralyzed, he uses assistants to make artwork under his direction.
Apart from having to suffer from racism and the mental and physical effects it has on people, Shonibare also had his paralysis as an obstacle.
But that did not stop him from being one of the best black portrait artists.
A hallmark of contemporary black artists, Yinka’s work is the embodiment of cultural identity, colonialism, and post- colonialism within the contemporary context.
While most of his works are inspired by his own life experiences, he also takes inspiration from around the world, as he said, “I’m the citizen of the world.”
The brightly colored African fabric is the key material in most of his contemporary black art.
He creates life-sized sculptural figures which are meticulously positioned and dressed in vibrant wax cloth using this fabric.
20. Horace Pippin
A self-taught modern African American artist, Horace Pippin is renowned for his realistic depictions of scenes from World War I as well as landscapes and portraits.
The only reason Horace took up painting was to rehabilitate his injured arm.
He would start painting on a fabric stretched by some clamps.
Slowly, he moved on to a larger range of themes for his subject, often including biblical subjects and political statements.
His big breakthrough arrived when he submitted two paintings to a local art show and received great praise from critics like Christian Brinton and artist N.C. Wyeth.
Most other critics described him as “a real and rare genius.”
He was also the first black artist to be the subject of a monograph, making him one of the most famous contemporary black artists.
21. Chris Ofili
Chris Ofili is a British born contemporary black artist who is famous for his black modern art made from elephant dung.
Apart from that, he would use resin, beads, oil paint, glitter, and cutouts from magazines.
He would form them into shapes that would be used to depict the common surroundings of his subjects.
These elements’ variety in artworks also categorized them as “punk art.”
He received many prizes, like the Turner Prize-winning exhibit at the Tate in 1998 for his glittery painting called Orgena.
And that’s how we end our list with a bang!
So, for all you know, these people were no ordinary artists.
These contemporary black artists had nerves of steel and they stood up to society’s rejection.
But they didn’t just break their chains; they went out of their comfort zones and tried to uplift the African American community.
They made sure their voices were heard through the medium they chose; modern black art!
With the help of the sudden outburst of social media, they got a platform to express their ideas.
This helped them prove that, despite a white-centric community, they are doing a wonderful job.
Do you wish to own a replica of any of these amazing paintings by famous black artists?
We at PortraitFlip provide Reproduction Painting services where you can have your favorite painting replica on your home walls!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.
If there is something I missed out, feel free to reach out in the comment section below.
I would love to hear from you!
So, until next time,
Five female contemporary black artists are: Amy Sherald, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Mickalene Thomas, Genesis Tramaine, and Carrie Mae Weens.
Aaron Douglas is known as the father of black art and lead the Harlem Renaissance.
Artworks that are created by African American artists that portray their experiences, perceptions and reality through different mediums can be considered as African American Art.