Black Artists Who Make Me Excited About Breathing – Part 1

At a poetry event this past week, someone asked me about photographers I’ve been paying attention to lately. I mentioned a few who I pulled from the longer list in my head, and she nodded in recognition of some of the names. In the midst of a photoshoot this weekend, I was asked about an art piece I have set as the lock screen on my phone. The piece is by visual artist, and self-defined visual communicator, Brianna McCarthy.

here i will not forget by brianna mccarthy

[Featured image credit: Brianna McCarthy, Here, I Will Not Forget2013. from the Saints and Jumbies Exhibition.]

I thought I’d write a post where I discuss a few Black women artists who make me excited about being a person that is much more than a body. These are women whose work I love and who inspire me to continue on this path of creating. I think good art does many things, one of which is moving the viewer or reader deeply, and another is inspiring a reader or viewer to create. This post is the start to a multiple-part series where I highlight dope Black artists who I feel do that and so much more.

Brianna McCarthy is a self-taught mixed media visual communicator whose work I was introduced to early last year during a Black History Month-long poetry writing challenge. I was so taken by her watercolor painting, Here, I Will Not Forget, that I wrote an ekphrasis love poem in response. I have yet to return to it with edits and I’m not really sure I will, but what I love about Brianna’s work is its insistence that Black girls and women exist. I love her use of colorful paints, fabric, masks and various other mediums in that insistence and that evoking of beauties, feelings and identities of brown girls. I’m really intrigued by the Black futurism of her Vétiver Night Women and already plan on writing an ekphrasis poem in response to one of the paintings. She lives and works in Trinidad and Tobago, so if I ever hear that her work is being exhibited in NYC or any city I happen to be traveling through at the time, I’m there. No question.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet, photographer and painter. I learned of Rachel through seeing her photographic portraits of Black poets all over the web and at some NYC poetry spaces, namely Cave Canem. Each portrait seemed to capture the true essence of the poet, even if I didn’t know them personally. Earlier this year, she had a photo essay published in Union Station Magazine and among other things, I was moved to tears. In Rachel’s work, I’m captivated by spirit and body of Black women as well as what feels to me like ancestral presence and memory that is strong. I had a similar spiritual experience this year as I listened to her, Nikky Finney and Parneisha Jones speak on a panel earlier this year. Rachel’s work served as a backdrop as they sat on stage and then, too, I found myself weak with the indescribable. And yes, I cried again, lol. She has a folio book due to be released soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sophia Dawson is a visual artist whose work I discovered through my community organizing life. Years ago, I walked into MXGM’s Black August Art Show to be greeted by her huge and beautiful painting of Assata Shakur hanging on the wall. I wish I still had the photo I took of it but I’m several cell phones removed from it. She uses her art as a tool to educate people and uplift the stories of people, a lot of whom who are facing injustice as I type this. In her acrylic and oil paintings, there’s a wonderfully strong presence of the color black. I’ve seen a mix of black-and-white paintings, to paintings that still have that strong presence of the color black accompanied by vibrant colors, sometimes with words also written on the canvas or mural. I know a Sophia Dawson piece when I walk to a room, see and feel it. I recently viewed more of her work currently as part of the Power, Protest and Resistance three-fold exhibitions sponsored by the Rush Art Galleries. Check her work out at the gallery in Chelsea. One day, I hope to have a Sophia Dawson piece hanging in my home.

LaToya Ruby Frazier is a photographer and video artist who was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. I stumbled across her work earlier this year while browsing Aperture’s website and reading about her first photography book, The Notion of Family. I found more of her work online and was really moved by the intimacy in many of them. Seeing images of her town in crisis, herself, her mother and grandmother as their honest selves, in and out of their homes in their night-gowns, regular clothes, with chins up, looking straight ahead although so much they’re surrounded by would rather them be looking down or not looking at all—made me think of my own family. And her work is helping me as I continue with my own photographic journey of documenting my family and the stories we hold. There are things about my family and my life I’ve attempted to tackle through poetry, and there are things I look forward to understanding a bit more through photography. I’m currently waiting to get LaToya’s debut book in the mail and can’t wait to see what else it has inside of it.

Feel free leave a comment below with names of any Black artists who you’re really digging right now. See y’all next Sunday with a new post!



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