7 Black Art Exhibitions to See in Person This Year
With new and renovated museums, galleries, and special events happening around the world, the time is more than right to renew the pastime of taking in-depth looks at the vast number of Black and African art available to us.
Some exhibitions are meant to be seen in person to properly take in the craft, design and historic meaning behind their existence, from African artefacts that can be traced back to the 13th century, to rag dolls made by hand in the 1850s.
From the Met in New York to London’s V&A museum, we’ve rounded up seven of the most interesting displays of masterpieces that should be viewed in the flesh, where possible.
Jean-Michel Basquiat at The Broad, Los Angeles
“Wicker” (1984) by Jean-Michel Basquiat
One of the world’s leading collections of post-war and contemporary art, The Broad is home to an unparalleled collection of pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and all 13 of them are on view, some for the first time ever, in an expansive installation of the late artist’s work.
While digital tours allowed virtual access to the works in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum’s reopening in May 2021 means the extremely valuable and important artwork by one of America’s prominent Black artists can be taken in without a screen.
“Wicker” (1984) is one of three works by Basquiat that are on view for the first time at The Broad. Basquiat’s art is both a reflection on the legacy of slavery and colonialism and a celebration of the histories of Black culture and everyday traditions of Black life.
On view now at The Broad
Black Cowboys: An American Story at The Witte Museum, San Antonio
Black Cowboys: An American Story
The oldest museum in Texas, Witte Museum, is playing host to “Black Cowboys: An American Story”, an exhibition that explores the little-known history of Black people in the Wild West and provides a view of legendary cowboys and a more diverse portrait of the American West.
The exhibition transports visitors through time to meet real Black cowboys and examine their significant impact on American History, through artefacts, photographs and documents depicting the work and skills of Black cowboys. Guests will discover how they tamed and trained horses, tended livestock and rode on the trail with thousands of cattle across the United States.
The role of Black cowboys evolved over the 20th century as they used the skills they learned on the trail to own their own ranches, serve as lawmen, ride in rodeos, become singers and artists. Today, the lives and legacies of Black cowboys have inspired new generations to explore the past through music, film, fashion and design.
On until April 2022
The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality at The Met, New York
The Goddess Isis and her Son Horus, 332–30 B.C. Egyptian
For the first time in The Met’s history, the museum gathers 42 pieces from its vast collection of African art for an exhibition of sculptures from west and central Africa and ancient Egypt.
While the Met’s Arts of Africa galleries undergo extensive renovations, the artwork contained within have been put on wide display and deserve to be seen in the flesh, some of which include the Benin ivory mask from the 16th century to Egyptian carvings.
By pairing 21 works of art from different African cultures and eras, “The African Origin of Civilization” provides visitors with an opportunity to appreciate the extraordinary creativity of the continent over centuries, revealing unexpected parallels and contrasts.
On now at the The Met Fifth Avenue
Black Dolls at the New York Historical Society
American Girl Addy walker doll by Pleasant Company/American Girl circa 1993
The oldest museum in New York City, the New York Historical Society Museum and Library is taking visitors into the world of playthings with “Black Dolls”. Featuring more than 100 cloth dolls and figurines handmade by African American women between 1850 and 1940, alongside historical photographs of them in use, the exhibition explores dolls through the lens of history, race and gender in the United States.
In an era when racially diverse dolls were not commercially available, Black families sought to make their children feel seen and represented by creating their own toys and dolls that reflected the world around them, taking them from humble playthings to significant artefacts. “Black Dolls” encourages visitors to confront and engage with a seldom-discussed part of American history, and its legacy today.
From 25 February to 5 June
Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon at Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town
Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon
Opening this weekend at Cape Town’s MOCAA is a comprehensive retrospective of South African artist Tracey Rose’s work. Known for her performances, installations and photography, Rose uses her lens to explore cultural, racial and structural themes facing African men and women.
“Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon” is a reference to the artist’s 2016 installation of the same name, where she explored post-colonial societal constructs in non-Western communities.
The large-scale exhibition features Rose’s work spanning from 1996 to the present day, across visual art, photography, film and sculpture, with the human body being a central aspect. Rose often uses the body – usually hers – to present discourse about sexuality, femininity and humanity.
From 19 February to 28 August
Africa Fashion at the V&A museum, London
Alchemy collection by Thebe Magugu, AW21, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photograph by Tatenda Chidora
Spanning iconic mid-20th century to contemporary creatives through photographs, textiles, music and the visual arts, “Africa Fashion” at the V&A museum in London seeks to explore the global impact of a fashion scene that is as dynamic and varied as the continent itself.
Opening on 2 July and featuring collections from the archives of iconic mid-20th century African designers to modern-day creatives including South Africa’s Thebe Magugu, Rwanda’s Moshions and IAMISIGO from Nigeria, the exhibition offers a close look at the new generation of ground-breaking designers, collectives, stylists and fashion photographers working in Africa today. Putting the focus on individual African voices and perspectives, the exhibition presents African fashions as a self-defining art form that reveals the richness and diversity of African histories and cultures.
Opens on Saturday 2 July
Black Joy on Artsy by TAAG Gallery
“Moremi” (2021) by Theophilus Madaki
Of course, not everyone can get to a gallery or museum right now, whether it’s in their city or across the world. But you can still enjoy great art virtually though Artsy and TAAG Gallery’s “Black Joy”, a digital exhibition featuring 10 Nigerian artists presenting their ideas of joy in the perception of Africa and Africans. Held in honor of Black History Month, the exhibition examines the visual portrayal of the Black body and person all through history: is joy possible in the aesthetic conception of Africa? Is it shown enough?
These questions are addressed in paintings by artists including Theophilus Madaki, Paul Ogunlesi and Kelani Fatai, who offer varied and textured dimensions of Africans through portraiture.
Beyond illuminating the different displays of joy, “Black Joy” aptly centers portraiture as a mode of African expression, the use of colour, the recognition of the worthiness of the ordinary and the celebration of Black people.
From 11 February to 11 March