Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

Top 5 Black Contemporary Artists Who Are Making a Cultural Difference

Jun 16, 2021 11:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
Black Contemporary Artists

Every form of art has established rules and borders around its genres in the creative spectrum, but contemporary artists have shattered those borders and redefined the meaning of art. Contemporary art is all about challenging reality and embodying a distinct range of ideas and experiences by employing different mediums. The art form becomes a manifestation of an individual's unique identity and standpoint, operating as a mirror for modern society and providing an opportunity for dialogue. This article looks at 5 Black contemporary artists who used their unique talents to make a cultural difference.

Glenn Ligon 

Glenn is known for producing thought-provoking work on topics such as language, race, sexuality, desire, and self-reflection. His work primarily investigates the intimacy between text and visuals in various mediums, while pushing every creative boundary. He belongs to a generation whose work has prominently addressed important issues such as racism and inequality. The historical complexity has served as the foundation for every work he has created, but his genius lies in the materials he chose to create and the range of issues he addressed. His most famous works were text-based drawings and paintings in which he stencils a fragment of a paragraph from the works of literary geniuses such as Zora Neale Hurston, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin onto a canvas. His technique with the black oil stick ranges from precise to overworked, leaving room for interpretation in the lack of legibility. The conflict in readability showcases the cultural blindness that has risen in our society for centuries. 

Figure 1 -  Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (“ I am an Invisible Man”), 1991.

Amanda Williams

Amanda is known for breaking the barriers between architecture and art. Color(ed) Theory, her most well-known work, is a synthesis of photography, color, and sculptural ideology directed at abandoned and near-demolished housing structures as a response to changing urban surroundings. Her methodology transforms architectural elements into a dramatic context that adds value to the environment and the city. She painted eight houses in the Englewood neighborhood that were slated for demolition with vibrant colors inspired by Chicago's south side to draw attention to racial indifference in urban design. Even though it is limited to one specific space, it has raised broader social issues in which she can invite conversations about the political and racial narrative that drives the devaluation of many neighborhoods.

Figure 2 - “Crown Royal Blue” from Color(ed) Theory by Amanda Williams

 Kerry James Marshall

He is regarded as one of the most important contemporary artists of his generation, best known for his revolutionary portraits of Black subjects. Marshall's work, which was inspired by his personal history, has raised several important questions about the historical representation of Black people and has reshaped the narrative. While his motivation is rooted in the larger social picture, his execution process has ranged from comics to sculpting, with a focus on contemporary aesthetics. Marshall's visuals typically range from solo portraits to group portraits, depicting the daily lives of Black people in their homes or the interpretation of historical moments. This is evident in his well-known works, such as the traditional barbershop depiction in De Style and the depiction of the violent deaths of Black children in Lost Boys. In the entirety, Marshall's work in society has been confrontational, genre-defining, and eye-opening.

Figure 3 - De Style by Kerry James Marshall

Faith Ringgold

Faith is a multifaceted artist who found success in different mediums such as painting, performance arts, writing, sculpting, and quilting. Born in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, she has inspired the art world with many traditions, including children's perspectives, female work, and African American history. Her subjects have ranged from vivid landscapes to strong political portraits, and she has depicted them in a variety of mediums such as quilting, painting, sculpture, mosaics, and murals. While she enjoyed sculpting in wood and clay, she turned to quilt out of necessity, which pushed her to experiment with fabrics, paintings, and narrative construction. This allowed her to create an unfiltered and impartial narrative about the representation of Black people in America. In her first quilt, Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? she uses a unique narrative to transform Aunt Jemima from an ancient stereotype to an entrepreneur. Taking a year to craft each quilt, Faith brought certain uniqueness to the quilt medium.


Figure 4 -Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima? By Faith Ringgold

Kehinde Wiley

The artist who immortalized former US President Barack Obama in his vibrant and powerful portrait has altered the art world's terrain of portraiture. In a world where Black masculinity has always been portrayed against a dark and violent backdrop, Kehinde has changed that narrative by inserting African Americans into vividly rich backdrops with mazes of flora in a classical portraiture style. His work has operated on the mentality of juxtaposition to vocalize the narrative about history and class. His broad perspective on the world has served as the foundation for combining Black portraits with European-style portraits, recognizing the importance of portraying Black men and women in a grand manner that has been missing from the historical pages.

Figure 5 - Portrait of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley. 


 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

pFigure 1 - Gustavo Santaolalla Source- Google brp

The Dance Between Instrumentals and Visuals: An Opinion Piece

Choosing the path of a visual artist has come with its fair share of challenges. Whether it was creative blocks or bombardment of mediocrity, I always had a sense of incompleteness. I fo... Read More » 

Shaping the Contemporary Art: Arthur Jafa - Artist Review

“I've pushed myself to push toward things that disturb me. I've developed a habit of recording these things because these things often disappear” - Arthur Jafa Read More » 

How to Create a Narrative in Documentary Photography

How to Create a Narrative in Documentary Photography

At its core, photography is about conserving the human aesthetic and capturing fleeting moments. While many genres are free to experiment with surrealism and abstract expressionism, docum... Read More »