Black History MonthThe Importance of Modern Black Artists in the Canon of Collective History
Black History Month is not only a time of celebration but a period wherein we acknowledge the people most fundamental to the essence of our country, and a time where we reflect on how far we’ve yet to go. If it is widely accepted that artists are the purveyors of culture, then the Black artists in our communities have been elemental in setting the course of our shared collective.
Throughout the history of the African Diaspora, creatives have been purged from and intentionally buried by the canon of recorded memory. An ironic reality is Black art and culture are core to the bedrock of American society, and yet the collective experience is one of constant othering and repression. The importance of Black artists, who have started, informed, and cultivated some of the most significant shifts in our culture, not only in America but worldwide, has been grossly overlooked.
Black History Month exists far outside the celebration of just Black Americans. It dreams of a holistic, collective respect and love of Black culture in and out of the United States. It honors black innovation, art, expression and tradition globally.
It is within the bright and expressive works of Frida Kahlo, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jacob Lawrence, Pablo Picasso, Romare Bearden and Vincent Van Gogh that Lisa Whittington’s strongest influences find residence.
Yet, it is Van Gogh’s Starry Night that first captured her young heart and ignited within her the need to paint. Beneath the “rhythmic moving skies and twinkling stars of Van Gogh's world”, a young Black artist was encouraged to create her own worlds upon a canvas. In a 2017 TEDTalk, “What Does Art Want With You?”, she reflected on the ways in which his work consumed her: "nobody had ever given the wind color until Vincent Van Gogh did that for me."
Both Van Gogh and Whittington command color in a way that transforms pain and hardshipinto an undeniable, incandescent beauty, and an expression of the vitality of life. Her work in particular finds a deep somber energy and actualizes it through vivid color; pieces like I Am A Man A Man I Am and Under A Soprano Sky use grim expressions, bright contrasting colors, and condensed compositions to instigate these feelings.
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