Four Black Women who have shifted the way we see art

Four Black Women who have shifted the way we see art

There is no doubt that out of all the industries that exist, many of them are dominated by men, especially in the art world. Being a creative,curator, or artist, is not easy, specifically for Black women. Oftentimes, Black women are the ones setting trends for street art, fine art,and everything in between, but the recognition or compensation is never given. The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) reported that only 3-5 percent of artworks in permanent collections of major  U.S. museums are by women. Now, imagine being a Black woman in that percentage and barely having your work acknowledged. If there is one thing that we believe in at Ustawi, it is acknowledging the unsung sheros how have paved the way and lead the way. 


Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage was an American sculptor, art teacher, and community art director, whose work gained flight during the Harlem Renaissance. She moved from Florida to New York and attended the Cooper Union School of the Art, where she finished a four year program in three years. She then received the ​​Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study in Paris and a second fellowship, which allowed her to remain in Paris for an additional year. She also received a Carnegie Foundation grant for eight months of travel in France, Belgium, and Germany.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum, states that, “ following her return to New York in 1932, Savage established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and became an influential teacher in Harlem. In 1934, she became the first African-American member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. In 1937 Savage’s career took a pivotal turn. She was appointed the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center and was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair of 1939 to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans. Negro spirituals and hymns were the forms Savage decided to symbolize in The Harp. Inspired by the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s poem Lift Every Voice and Sing, The Harp was Savage’s largest work and her last major commission. She took a leave of absence from her position at the Harlem Community Art Center and spent almost two years completing the sixteen-foot sculpture. Cast in plaster and finished to resemble black basalt, The Harp was exhibited in the court of the Contemporary Arts building where it received much acclaim. The sculpture depicted a group of twelve stylized Black singers in graduated heights that symbolized the strings of the harp. The sounding board was formed by the hand and arm of God, and a kneeling man holding music represented the foot pedal. No funds were available to cast The Harp, nor were there any facilities to store it. After the fair closed it was demolished as was all the art.”

When Savage was seeking to return to the Harlem CommunityArt center, her position was given to someone else. This caused Savage to end her career and shortly after the Harlem Community Art center closed due to World War II.  Her ability to captivate the true essence of Black beings as their true selves through art was unmatched. The name Savage could never be viewed as bad, because her work was so good. 


Faith Ringgold 

Faith Ringgold is an American artist, but she is also a living legend.  She wears many hats, like being a  painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher and lecturer. She attended City College of New York where she received her B.A. and M.A. in visual art. She was also a Professor of Art at the University of California in San Diego and has earned herself  23 Honorary Doctorates.

In the early 1960’s she decided to expand her art  and mind by traveling around Europe.  It states on her website , that “ she created her first political paintings, The American People Series from 1963 to 1967 and had her first and second one-person exhibitions at the Spectrum Gallery in New York. In the early 1970’s Ringgold began making tankas (inspired by a Tibetan art form of paintings framed in richly brocaded fabrics), soft sculptures and masks. She later utilized this medium in her masked performances of the 1970’s and 80’s. Although Faith Ringgold’s art was initially inspired by African art in the 1960’s, it was not until the late 1970’s that she traveled to Nigeria and Ghana to see the rich tradition of masks that have continued to be her greatest influence.”

Ringgold took her love for art and writing and published her first book , Tar Beach in 1991, with Crown Publishers. It became an award winning book and won over 20 awards including the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award for the best-illustrated children’s book of 1991. “An animated version with Natalie Cole as the voice over was created by HBO in 2010. The book is based on the story quilt of the same title from The Woman on a Bridge Series, 1988. The original painted story quilt, Tar Beach, is in the permanent collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.” ( )

Ringgold is one of very few Black artists that have a permanent collection in a major museum in the U.S. This has allowed spectators to understand the beauty of black art, passion, and power. 


Amy Sherald

Amy Sherald is an American painter born in Columbus, GA, but currently lives in the Greater New York City Area. She attended Clark-Atlanta University for her B.A. in Painting and was a Spelman College International Artist-in-Residence in Portobelo, Panama. She continued on to Maryland Institute College of Art where she received her M.F.A in Painting as well.  “ In 2016, Sherald was the first woman and first African-American to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition grand prize; she also received the 2017 Anonymous Was A Woman award and the 2019 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award.”( . Her genre of art is simplified realism, involving staged photographs of her subjects.She is well known for painting the official Portrait of First Lady, Michelle Obama and the Vanity Fair magazine cover/ painting of Breona Taylor. Her use of color resembles the colorful life of what it means to be Black.  


Kara Walker

Kara Walker is an American artist based in New York but was born in Stockton, CA and raised partially in Atlanta, Georgia.  She studied at the Atlanta College of Art  (B.F.A). and the Rhode Island School of Design (M.F.A.). Her art tells a story of race, gender, sexuality, and violence through silhouetted figures that have appeared in several exhibitions worldwide. 

“She is the recipient of many awards, notably the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award in 1997 and the United States Artists, Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship in 2008. In 2012, Walker became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2015, she was named the Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.  Her work can be found in museums and public collections throughout the United States and Europe including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Gallery, London; the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), Rome; and Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt.”

As a painter, silhouettist, print-maker, installation artist, filmmaker, and professor, she is very knowledgeable about how to capture the black experience and lifestyle on any canvas.