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The UN Is Spotlighting Black Female Artists With “A Force for Change” Exhibition and Auction


For Black women artists across Africa and the diaspora, it has often been difficult to gain exposure or funding for their work which would enable them to access new opportunities and tell their stories. In an attempt to close that opportunity gap, UN Women, a branch of the United Nations dedicated to the fight for gender equality, is holding the “A Force for Change” art exhibition and benefit auction. 

Taking place from 16 to 30 July on the auction site Artsy, 50 percent of the proceeds will be donated to launching UN Women’s Black Woman Programme. The organization is designed to connect women of African descent in Africa and the diaspora through programming on the creative industries. The other 50 percent will be the artists’ to keep in a deliberate effort to value the artists’ work and give them the financial support in order to continue creating.

Cinthia Sifa Mulanga Self-sureness

Self-Sureness (2021) by Cinthia Sifa Mulanga

The intergenerational and diverse roster features women artists born between 1935 and 1997, and who hail from 15 different countries around the world. The exhibition not only spans continents, but multiple artistic mediums including photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, and film.

Up by Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya

Up (2020) by Sungi Mlengeya

Despite the wide range of nationalities and types of artwork presented in the collection, curator Erin Jenoa Gilbert notes that all of the works are “statements of survival and solidarity,” and that through their subversive nature, they “symbolically connect the concurrent civil and human rights movements in Africa, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Europe, and the United States.”

Colostrum XVI by Andrea Chung

Colostrum XVI (2021) by Andrea Chung

In terms of the long-term reverberations that the leaders of the event hope the exhibition and auction will have, much of the focus is on eradicating the opportunity gap that exists primarily for women of color. In the event’s official press release, executive director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka writes, “Racial justice and gender inequality are not separate but integrally linked—and UN Women’s work prioritizes both.” She has also expressed that by raising the funding for the artists’ work is to support Black women’s movements at large in order to foster ties between communities across the diaspora and amplify their voices. 

Tye Dyed by Ghanaian-German artist Zohra Opoku

Tye Dyed (2017-18) by Zohra Opoku

For Congolese artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga, whose piece “Self-Sureness” is part of the exhibition and auction, says that, “It was such an honor for me to be selected for the UN Women’s exhibition, and for my work to be shown along with the work of such amazing artists,” some of which include Ghanaian-German Zohra Opoku, Tanzanian painter Sungi Mlengeya, and veteran South African visual artist Esther Mahlangu.

“Being invited to take part had already brought me so much joy, but seeing the reaction to my work, and feeling the love and appreciation from around the globe has been incredibly overwhelming,” Sifa Malanga shares. “It proves to me that the moments I create in my work are not just being seen, but also being felt and that they are creating instant and deep reactions for the viewers.”

Ascendants XII by Wangari Mathenge

Ascendants XII (And Still I Rise) (2021) by Wangari Mathenge

Even if you’re not able to participate in the auction, works in the sale will be shown in an in-person exhibition that’s open from 27 to 31 July at Chelsea’s Agora Gallery in New York. The pieces are also available to view online for the duration of the auction. 


A Force for Change is on at the Agora gallery from 27-31 July 



Images courtesy of Artsy and UN Women
Words: Elise Soutar