Afrofuturism – Style of art that reimagines the past, present, and future of Africans and African Americans through various lenses including science fiction and futuristic fantasy.

  • Taxi, the Raje series, 1998, photograph  – cibachrome – Shows herself as the Afrofuturist superhero Raje. Costume is in the colors of the Jamaican/black nationalist flags. superhero Raje stops a taxicab criticizing NYC cab drivers that pass black passengers.  Subverts stereotypes, rights injustices, and rewrites history.


Post-Black Art (1990s – present)

Post-Black Art (1990s – present) means that artists are no longer compelled to create works that are protest or ethnic.  2000 census showed a larger segment of the American population marked other for those of multiple ethnicities or rejection of racial labeling altogether. 


New Millenium art still shows racial pride and identity – allow “multiple racial, gender, and ethnic influences to converge in their art” 


  1. Kehinde Wiley, (1977-) portraitist – looks to European male portraits of the 16th, 17th, and 18th century – kings, military, gentry, royalty and portrays them as successful privileged Black  men, some known celebrities. Uses gilt frame, patterned backdrops inspired by key Western European art eras such as the Italian Renaissance and French Baroque. Challenges the concept of Black masculinity as Black men are often equated with fear and violence in America.


  1. Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, 2005 – based on Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Saint Bernard Pass.Model is a young Black man  from south-central LA. He is seated in a power position in the grand manner of portraiture. 

Neo-Expressionism (late 1970s – early 1990s)

Neo-Expressionism (late 1970s – early 1990s) merges Abstract Expressionism with  figural representation and a rejection of all Postmodernism innovations such as installation and conceptualism. There are a range of subjects and diverse styles. 


  1. Robert Colescott, (1925-2009) Colescott was a forerunner of Neo-Expressionist movement bridging old and new Pop Art variations. He appropriated well known European artworks using African American subjects with a style that uses figural distortions and multiple figures in a cramped space.


George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, 1975 – Colescott appropriates  the Emmanuel Leutze painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware., substituting George Washington Carver for George Washington, and the soldiers are replaced by black stereotypes i.e. mammy, minstrels)

  • Kara Walker (1969- ) Walker uses the vintage Victorian style of silhouette art, placed on a white background, sometimes accompanied by a video or mood lighting. The silhouettes challenge cultural memory and decorum depicting death, enslavement, interracial violence, and depravity acted out by antebellum characters. Turns history into a farce. Walker’s work has been controversial as supporters view the art as a critique of racism through irony, caricature and disturbing narrative. Critics view it as degrading and reinforcing of negative stereotypes.


Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994  – panoramic piece inspired by Gone with the Wind novel and film.

  • Kerry James Marshall (1955-) Creates multi layered paintings and collages with darkly pigmented flat figures to express narratives on Black society and history.


Better Homes, Better Gardens, 1994 is part of the “Garden Project” series. Well dressed children in different outdoor gardens is ironic to the actual poverty conditions of public housing projects, which bear names such as “Wentworth” and “Stateway Gardens”

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: (1960-1988) Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist with the tag of SAMO (same old). He quickly rose to fame after taking part in a group exhibition in 1980. early 1980s works have skeletal forms, masked faces, urban symbols, text phrases about his life and societal observations as well as his cultural heritage of Puerto Rican and Haitian. Collaborative works with Warhol and Italian artist Francesco Clement were being exhibited by 1985.


The Irony of a Negro Policeman, 1981  vividly painted, skeletal face, use of the word “pawn” suggests Black policement were ironic in a racist judicial system.”

 Postmodernism (1980s – )

 Postmodernism (1980s – ) rejected several characteristics of Modernism including art must be hand made by the artist, art is a marketable commodity, and it must be a unique, sustainable object like a sculpture or painting. Post modernism encompassed new forms of expression including video, texts, and performance and use of alternative types of materials such as plastics and concrete. 


Conceptual Art was a trend within Postmodernism. Here the artist’s thought process took precedence over everything else (media type, skill, and technique). Part of the art-making process was written text and sometimes the only element of the work. 

  • Howardena Pindell (1943-) Pindell is a multimedia artist that draws on many sources and diverse narratives. She briefly was an associate curator at MoMA but experienced hostility believed by her to be based on race and gender. This fueled her writing, activism, and art.


Separate but Equal Genocide: AIDS, 1992 – A 2 part conceptual piece. The red stripe suggests blood, and flags covered with names of AIDS victims. The use of white and black suggests that AIDS does not discriminate even when people do.


Intermedia Art was a method Conceptual artists used such as performance or an installation. A performance is ephemeral and can involve audience participation. Installation art is also temporary. Created for a particular space, can never be viewed the same way twice. The viewer can be immersed in the art by entering it and becoming part of it rather than casually observing.


  1. Adrian Piper, (1948-) Piper moved to Conceptualism in the mid 1970s and created installations, performances, written and oral texts based mostly on myths of the Black male and white fear of miscegenation. Typically performed outside of traditional museums or galleries and created a direct interaction with viewers.


My Calling Card #1 (For Dinners and Cocktail Parties), performance art accessory, 1986  Piper is biracial and often mistaken for white. Therefore, she is often unwillingly involved in racist conversations. When this occured she would hand calling cards to the offending parties.


  1. Fred Wilson, (1954-) Wilson critiques traditional museum and gallery installations by manipulating standard museum objects and their spaces showing that context changes create changes in the viewer’s perception.


Guarded View, 1991, multi-media
Part of a larger work entitled “Mining the Museum” at the Maryland Historical Society.


  1. Carrie Mae Weems,(1953-) Weems is a photographer, multimedia, and installation artist. She shows Black subjects with the intention that to better understand the present, you have to investigate the past. Weems also focuses on Black cultural identity.


From Here I Saw what Happened and I Cried, 1995 Redefining and humanizing archeological daguerreotypes taken of African slaves in 1850.

Feminist Art Movement

Feminist Art Movement occurred in tandem with the Black Arts Movement. Perceptions of women and their status were changing with the founding of the National Organization of Women, the Civil Rights Act ending sex discrimination, and legalization of abortion. Works by female artists began to reflect new social identities. For Black female artists, both the patriarchal nature of the Black Arts Movement and the predominantly white representation of the Feminist Art Movement marginalized the concerns of Black women. Many chose the Feminist Art Movement and worked within it to address issues of race and gender and also formed various professional support groups.

  • Faith Ringgold (1930- ) Ringgold formed WSABAL (Women, Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation) professional support group engaged in both Black Arts and Feminist Art Movements. After being exposed to Tibetan scroll banners (Tanka) in 1972, Ringgold moved to framing in textiles and then to story quilts which she is famously known for. By 1980, paintings and quilts became one as a painting was then transformed into a quilt. Within this media she addresses women’s themes and has lifted the idea of quilting to high art.


Woman Freedom Now (From the Political Poster series), 1971, Mixed media  series of Pop and Op Art political posters to raise money for the Black Panther Party legal defense fund. Her 1970s art is described as Afrofemcentric – a consolidation of feminine causes and Black liberation.


The Flag is Bleeding, 1970 Shown at The People’s Flag Show in 1970 where flag symbolism was adapted to show opposition to the Vietnam war and the oppression of minorities and women. Ringgold, art activist Jean Toche, and Judson Gallery curator Jon Hendricks curated the show and challenged flag desecration laws. The three were arrested on charges of flag desecration. Dubbed “the Judson Three,” they became an international cause with donations for bail and legal fees collected. Ringgold was fined.

  • Betye Saar (1926-)  Saar is best known for creating collage and assemblage works that challenge negative stereotypes about African Americans. Saar stated “I’m the kind of person who recycles materials but I also recycle emotions and feelings, and I had a great deal of anger about the segregation and the racism in this country.”


The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972 – Through mixed media/found objects, Saar critiques Mammy stereotypes through Aunt Jemima. Viewed as maid to self-liberating woman through caricature, pop imagery, and symbols of violence


  1. c) Emma Amos (1938-2020) “For me, a black woman artist, to walk into the studio is a political act.” Amos studied fine arts and textile weaving at Antioch College and printmaking techniques in London. She was the only female member of Spiral (a short lived collective of Black artists started in 1963) and was exposed to the history of African American artists, agitprop art, and the Black aesthetic. Amos has created several cycles focused on racism, historic figures, Black hair, own family history, and Black history.

 Out in Front, 1982  self-woven fabric and painting

Africobra and the Black Aesthetic

COBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists) was later known as AfriCOBRA (African Comune Of Bad Relevant Artists) formed in Chicago. Artists dealt with Black history narratives and struggles for equality on social, economic, and political levels. Through the use of African symbolism and hieroglyphics, bold patterns, and vivid palettes, the works connected to the viewer which was mostly working-class Blacks.


  1. Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004) Donaldson was a founding member of AfriCOBRA. He taught art in Chicago public schools while earning a Masters in art education at Illinois Institute of Technology. His style was self described as “Trans-African” and became a model for AFriCOBRA’s aesthetics.


Wives of Shango, 1969 – Image of West African god Shango’s warrior wives, signifying armed resistance. Their style reflects the Black Power Movement with Kongo textile patterns.


  1. David Hammons (1943-) Started creating agitprop art in the late 1960s after witnessing the Watts riots in Los Angeles.


Injustice Case, 1970, body print, Los Angeles County Museum of Art  – profile of Hammons body bound and gagged with American flag. This image references the “gagging” of Black Panther Bobby Seale during his trial for conspiracy and inciting a riot. Seale repeatedly protested the trial and charges prompting the judge to have Seale bound and gagged and sentenced to 4 years for contempt. This piece nods to the larger injustices with the American justice system.


Pop and Agitprop: The Black Arts Movement (1960s-1970s)

Pop and Agitprop: The Black Arts Movement (1960s-1970s) was a Black artist-led movement rooted in African arts and influenced by civil rights gains activism and the militancy of the Black Power movement. Though mainly a literary group, it extended to the visual arts. Black art museums and Black owned galleries were being founded during this time in part to protest white art institutions’ lack of diversity and representation. Within the movement were Pop Art and Agitprop art styles that were both used to promote political messages.


  1.  Benny Andrews (1930-2006) Andrews viewed himself as an artist of the people yet viewed art distinct from political activism and of an individual’s aesthetic. He created collage paintings that portrayed places and people with which he was familiar.


Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree, 1969, mixed media

Abstract Expressionism (1943 – 1955)

 Abstract Expressionism is a type of non-objective painting with no recognizable form. While many African American artists took part in the movement, just as many kept to creating art as a means of storytelling and political messages. At this time the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and politics was at the forefront in African Americans lives.


  1. Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) Delaney was the first Black proponent of abstract expressionism. He studied in Boston, and studied and exhibited in NYC during the Harlem Renaissance. Through the 1940s, Delaney suffered setbacks due to depression and financial issues. He began exhibiting again in the late 1940s with a more abstract style. In 1953, Delaney followed friend, author James Baldwin, to Paris to escape racial and sexual oppression.


Can Fire in Park, 1946


  1. Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891-1978)  – Thomas’ focus was non objective and color field painting. She lived her entire life in Washington D.C. and was part of the Washington Color School, a group of color field and hard-edge artists. Thomas chose to use nature as inspiration. “Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” Her later years brought more recognition of her work. She was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972


 Wind and Crepe Myrtle Concerto, 1973 Use of gestural abstraction through the use of short brushstrokes. Painting echos her love of nature and musical harmonies.


  1. Sam Gilliam (1933-2022) Gilliam was a color field artist who received a BFA and MFA at the University of Louisville. He was also part of the Washington Color School with ALma Woodsey Thomas. Gilliam’s technique was staining or pouring paint onto a canvas and then folded the canvas so paint would stain through to other areas. He then shaped/draped the canvas on armature or wall creating a sculptural effect.  In the 1970s, he created multi sided canvas frames and surfaces and intensified the color palette.  Also used collage, assemblance, and quilting techniques.


Light Depth, 1969, Combination of painting, sculpture,and textile


  1. Barbara Chase-Riboud- (1939-present) – Chase-Riboud’s work represents figurative expressionism (creation of distorted figures and forms). Traveled to Europe on a Whitney fellowship to study direct wax casting. She returned to receive her MFA from Yale before moving back to Europe permanently. Case-Riboud is diverse in her creativity, also being a poet and published author.


Malcolm X #3, 1969 – Polished bronze sculptures incorporating gold and black patinas with silk, wool, or cotton cords. Contrasting dull and polished, hard and soft, light and dark (yin/yang) Influenced by African headdresses.

Art Brut “raw art” /Self-Taught/Outsider Art (1930s – 1950s)

 These terms define working artists without a formal arts education. Originally coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet who viewed art produced without academic instruction to be more authentic. This group of artists are also labeled “primitive” “naive” “folk” “vernacular” and are often segregated from the realm of “high” art.  The style was made popular from the 1930s -1950s due to a 1938 traveling exhibition Masters of Popular Painting, developed by WPA-FAP director and several museum curators which called the artists “Modern Primitives”.

  • Bill Traylor, (1854-1949) Traylor was an enslaved man and farmworker who worked on an Alabama plantation he was raised on until the owners died. By age 82, Traylor couldn’t work due to rheumatism and was homeless. He started creating art he hawked  on street corners. This caught the eye of Charles Shannon, an artist who bought Traylor’s work and organized a solo exhibit.Subject matter was mainly Images of farm workers, animals, and blue-color Alabamians. Few works sold to anyone outside of Shannon. Traylor became popular after his death.


Untitled (Blue Man on Red Object) c.1939


  1. Horace Pippin (1888-1946) Pippin has a style similar to Jacob Lawrence. His subject matter varied from portraits and still lifes, to landscapes and biblical themes. Pippin held various jobs before entering WWI as a member of the Harlem Hell Fighters and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for heroism. He was discharged in 1919 with a partially paralyzed arm and had to re-learn how to paint. Pippin exhibited his work in shop windows in West Chester, PA in the 1930s and as part of the Masters of Popular Painting exhibition. By 1939, Pippen was represented by a Philadelphia gallery specializing in folk art.


The Hoe Cake, c. 1946

  • Gee’s Bend Quilters (1930s – Present) is a female cooperative of quilters in the remote African American town of Gee’s Bend (now Boykin), Alabama. Arlonzia Pettway, Annie Mae Young and Mary Lee Bendolph are among the most notable quilters. Many of the residents can trace their ancestry back to enslaved people.,Loretta%20Pettway%2C%20Linda%20Diane%20Bennett%2C%20and%20Louisiana%20Bendolph.

Surrealism (1950s-1960s)

Surrealism (or beyond reality) was founded as a literary movement in France that quickly incorporated visual artists. The movement was influenced by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and his analysis of dreams and the subconscious, and how the subconscious affects human behavior. Stylistically it was without abstraction and used dream-like images such as fantasy, spontaneous elements, and an irrational narrative. Surrealism had a significant following in Europe and the US.

  • Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999) – Smith’s paintings were based on images that expressed his feelings about the world through the use of long shadows, isolated figures, abandoned architectural settings. Smith graduated from Cleveland Museum School and joined the WPA-FAP as a painter and associated with Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center. After graduating with a degree in art education from Wayne State University, he turned to Surrealism to portray social issues such as poverty and racial oppression.


  1. Eldzier Cortor, (1916-2015) Cortor was a painter and printmaker who primarily focused on Black women in surreal settings. HerReceived a fine arts degree from the Chicago Art Institute and worked for the WPA-FAP documenting poverty on the South Side of Chicago. Grant to study Gullah people in the low country of Georgia and the Carolinas, interested in their retention of African culture and practices. This study would influence his work.


The Couple, 1948