7 Places to See Great Art by Black Artists This Summer
Experiencing the arts and culture in real life has been one of the much-missed activities over the past few months. After a stream of virtual exhibitions and online-only shows, an in-person cultural reboot is a welcome prospect. Thankfully, there are many art destinations around the world worth leaving the house for.
For Black artists, their work is often underrepresented at prestigious galleries or relegated to certain months of the year when deemed particularly relevant. But all over the world, from Athens to Accra the art scene is rapidly changing and galleries from the small and independent to the renowned are building platforms to showcase Black artists and their talents on a global scale.
From archive photographic images to visually arresting paintings that engage the senses, here’s a roundup of some of the best art by Black artists to see up close.
‘James Barnor: Accra/London’ at The Serpentine
Drum Cover Girl, Erlin Ibreck, London, 1966. Photograph by James Barnor
London’s Serpentine Galleries is hosting a major retrospective of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor and his visionary work through his studio portraits and photojournalism.
Born in Ghana in 1929, Barnor is known for capturing images of Black lifestyle, from daily life in pre-independence Ghana in the 1950s to documenting the burgeoning African diaspora in London in the early 1960s. Before arriving in the city to further his studies, Barnor had established his famous Ever Young photo studio is Accra, where he took portraits of members of the community, usually in black and white. In London, he shot for influential South African magazine Drum, an anti-apartheid publication.
The exhibition at The Serpentine displays Barnor’s records of social and political changes, across a career that spans six decades, two continents and various photographic genres.
‘Making Face’ at Rele Gallery
TOLU, 2021 by Bolaji Ogunrosoye
A group exhibition featuring a cohort of young Nigerian artists, ‘Making Face’ displays various perspectives and interpretations of portraiture and figuration, and the idea of looking and being seen, with a focus on visages.
Presented by the Lagos outpost of Rele Gallery and featuring the works of artists Kainebi Osahenye, Alimi Adewale, Bolaji Ogunrosoye, Soji Adesina, Plantation (Ayomide Tejuoso) and Jimi Agboola, the exhibition explores shifting ideas on how the human face is represented and rendered in art, from paintings and photography, to video and mixed media.
Shown here is “TOLU” by Bolaji Ogunrosoye, whose “Portraits” series looks at the nuances of Lagosians and their relationship with their city, using static images to portray emotions and feelings.
‘Mother of Mankind’ at HOFA Gallery
Memory Bank Error II, 2021 by Ayobola Kekere-Ekun
House of Fine Art, also known as HOFA Gallery specializes in contemporary art by international artists, with a particular aim for showcasing diverse and culturally relevant talent across its locations in Mykonos, Los Angeles and London.
It is the London gallery that has joined forces with Ghana-based ADA gallery to present ‘Mother of Mankind’, an all-female group exhibition of 16 artists. ‘Mother of Mankind’ explores notions of gender, power and human engagement, through colorful paintings that deconstruct and showcase the often marginalized female form in bold and spirited expressions.
Curated by Adora Mba, founder of ADA, the exhibition has tapped an intentional roster of artists from South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Canada, France and more, whose work have in common the themes of Black female figures and representation.
I No Be Gentleman (At All O) at ADA
‘I No Be Gentleman (At All O)’ at ADA, Accra
Founded in 2020 with the aim to nurture and represent fresh talent across Ghana, Africa and the diaspora, ADA does exactly that with its small group exhibition ‘I No Be Gentleman (At All O)’. Bringing together three Nigerian artists – Chukwudubem Busayo Ukaigwe, Matthew Eguavoen Imuetiyan, Emmanuel Amoo – and their work, ADA’s new show tackles ideas of African male identity and shifting practices in representing the status quo.
The title of the exhibition, ‘I No Be Gentleman (at all o)’ is taken from the 1973 album Gentleman by Afrobeat pioneer and activist, Fela Kuti, whose lyrics cheerfully mock the “gentleman” who wears stifling Western clothing in the scorching African sun: “He go sweat all over,” Kuti notes.
In the group exhibition, Ukaigwe, Imuetiyan and Amoo attempt to articulate their own idea of African aesthetics. By exposing sociocultural identities and economic discrepancies in their work, they show the effects of neocolonialism and the result of material and conceptual decolonization.
‘Truthful Waters’ at The Breeder
‘Truthful Waters’ by Ekene Stanley Emecheta
Nigerian artist Ekene Stanley Emecheta’s first solo exhibition, ‘Truthful Waters’, is hosted by The Breeder Gallery in Athens, Greece. For this body of work, the self-taught artist draws from his personal life, depicting a protagonist in various scenarios and stages of life. Despite the use of vivid colors such as blue and yellow, Emecheta declines to shade in his central figure’s skin, electing instead to focus on his posture and surroundings.
Working with concepts of reality and perception, the private and the public, touching on religion, childhood and the Black experience, the artist presents images that encourage the viewer to emotionally engage with the art.
Emecheta says, “I see water as an element of life that represents itself in its truest form. It’s tasteless, colourless, odorless, shapeless. Honestly expressing oneself is sometimes the most difficult thing. To empty the mind and be formless like water.”
‘Say It Loud: Visionaries of Self’ at Christie’s
Fried Ripe Plantain by Gherdai Hassell
For a second year, famed auction house Christie’s has teamed up with curator Destinee Ross-Sutton to present a new edition of at its New York galleries. Organized by Christie’s Corporate Social Responsibility group, the program aims to provide a global platform for the amplification and celebration of individual Black artists’ distinct perspectives, narratives and lenses.
Featuring 32 mostly figural works by a diverse and international roster of both established and up-and-coming artists, Ross-Sutton’s curation brings together rich individual voices, stylistic practices and cultural and social experiences through stimulating representations of the human form.
The exhibition is also presented in an online auction format with 100% of the proceeds going directly to the artists and their representatives. A portion of remitted proceeds will go toward funding the BLACK ARTIST COLLECTIVE, a foundation founded by Ross-Sutton to help promote and support in particular young and emerging African and LGTBQ+ artists of color.
‘J’ai Deux Amours’ at Mariane Ibrahim
‘J’ai Deux Amours’ at Mariane Ibrahim. Artwork by Peter Uka
One to look forward to later in the year, ‘J’ai Deux Amours’ is the inaugural exhibition at the newly opened Paris branch of the Mariane Ibrahim gallery. The new space is the second location and first European outpost of the Chicago gallery, which is named after its eponymous French-Somali founder. Dedicated to cultivating connections between the European and American art scenes, Mariane Ibrahim’s new venture hopes to increase the engagement of the audience and collectors with art.
‘J’ai Deux Amours: Mon Pays et Paris’, which translates to “I have two loves: my country and Paris”, will be a group exhibition featuring a selection of new work from the gallery’s represented artists.
Drawing on the dual identities of artists such as German-based Nigerian-born Peter Uka, Ghanaian-German Zohra Opoku and Vienna-based Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafa, the show echoes the ideas of diversity and culture, along with the intersection of identity and territory in an ever-changing world.