10 Black Artists to Celebrate in 2016

These players are killing the game.

Hank Willis Thomas, Raise Up (2014). Courtesy of nsuartmuseum.org.

In recent years, a handful of black artists have been able to achieve enormous critical and popular success. As we’ve seen in the rise of contemporary names as Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, and Juliana Huxtable, their claims to the most coveted of art world honors come with inscription in the new art historical canon.

What isn’t often a subject of discussion are those stories of artists emerging from the fold, however. To this end, we couldn’t think of a better way to honor the spirit of Black History Month than to fill this void with a lineup of black artists who are doing big things this year.


Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to Be Invisible (2013).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

1. Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Topping our list is Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Her meticulous, large-scale collage paintings on paper have been widely lauded for charting positive portraits of intimate African experiences, running counter to typical narratives of diasporic trauma. If her work looks familiar, you’ve probably seen her piece Before Now After (Mama, Mummy and Mamma) across from the Whitney Museum’s new building.

Her strides last year count a solo show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; the New Museum’s Next Generation Prize (as well as inclusion in their dazzling Triennial); and a notable distinction as one of the year’s 100 global thinkers in Foreign Policy‘s annual roundup.

With the Norton Museum recently premiering her first institutional survey this past January, we don’t anticipate a break in momentum anytime soon. Her survey, titled “I Refuse to Be Invisible,” runs through April 24.


Kameelah Janan Rasheed, HOW TO SUFFER POLITELY (and Other Etiquette)(2014).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

2. Kameelah Janan Rasheed
Kameelah Janan Rasheed‘s part-gallery, part-public art exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art (MoCADA) gave Brooklyn a crash course on “HOW TO SUFFER POLITELY (and Other Etiquette).” Late last year, five of her large format digital prints were installed on the property’s windows facing South Portland Avenue. As detailed in the project’s statement, the text-based series aims to “explore how suffering, anger and responses to trauma are policed to ensure that said expressions of suffering do not disrupt…oppressive institutions and systems.”

Rasheed has been enjoying a steady rise into art world prominence since 2008, with exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the Studio Museum, among others. According to her website, we can expect to see some new work in upcoming shows at the A.I.R. Gallery Space and with 21st Projects: Critical Practices Inc. later this year.


Awol Erizku with Sarah Lineberger, Duchamp Detox Clinics, 2016.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

3. Awol Erizku
Christened by Vulture as the art world’s “new it boy,” Awol Erizku has busied himself with a number of eye-catching projects. Early last fall, Erizku mounted a solo exhibition titled “New Flower/Images of the Reclining Venus” at the FLAG Art Foundation, casting women of color as Titian’s Reclining Venus. This is consistent with the artist’s re-imagining of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in 2009. Last summer, Erizku published a collection of portraits commissioned by Vogue titled “Forces of Nature,” starring a cast of black models—namely one of 2015’s art world all-stars Juliana Huxtable.

Erizku told artnet News in a phone interview that he’s currently in negotiations over summer shows in Europe and Asia. In the meantime, he’s actively touting “Duchamp Detox Clinic” in Los Angeles, where he curates shows in unorthodox spaces like offices and warehouses. “I’m trying to find a way to present and re-invent the gallery space in 2016,” he said. “I like creating very conventional art shows in non-conventional spaces.”


Eric Mack, Installation view of Never Had a Dream (2015)
Courtesy of the artist and Moran Bondaroff Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

4. Eric Mack
A recent alumnus of the prestigious residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York-based artist Eric Mack has a penchant for using fabrics, quilts, and other found objects to create his vibrant albeit dystopic assemblages. According to a feature by Artsy, who identified him as one of 2015’s top 15 emerging artists, his practice is attracting some serious industry interest.

Los Angeles-based gallery Moran Bondaroff, who currently represents Mack, held a solo exhibition for him late last year. The gallery told artnet News in a phone interview that the show, titled “Never Had a Dream,” was well-received. “It was a very fitting time because he was featured in the MoMA PS1 show “Greater New York,” the representative said, “so we were happy to give him a solo show on the heels of that.” Up ahead, Mack looks forward to a group exhibition at the Moran Bondaroff gallery in April, and a noteworthy two-person show at the Almine Rech Gallery in Paris later this fall.


Kevin Beasley, Untitled Stanzas: Staff/Un/Site (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

5. Kevin Beasley
Arguably best-remembered for his big-league debut at the Whitney Museum’s 2014 Biennial, American artist Kevin Beasley has recently taken his industrial-inspired sound works out of the white box and onto the stage. Last fall, Beasley hosted “Untitled Stanzas: Staff/Un/Site,” a hybrid performance-piece sound installation that saw him layering audio recordings over a two-day period on New York’s Chelsea High Line.

Earlier this year, the artist joined a group exhibition at the historic White Columns Gallery in New York. The eponymous “10th Anniversary White Columns Annual” includes veterans Rainer Ganahl, Nancy Shaver and 22 others and runs through February 20. According to the Casey Kaplan Gallery, who represents Beasley, the artist is also looking forward to another major group exhibition at the Modern Art Oxford in London opening April 15th, alongside Yoko OnoDavid Maljkovic, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby among others.


Tabita Rezaire, Still from Sorry For Real. Medium: Digital Video Installation (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

6. Tabita Rezaire
Called the web’s peaceful “Cyber Warrior” by OkayAfrica, South Africa-based artist Tabita Rezaire is bringing a unique dimension to Internet art’s ever-expanding universe. A rising crop of young Internet-based artists (YIBA) like Amalia Ulman have leveraged the medium as a platform to critique such phenomena as voyeurism and the performativity that’s inherent in social media. But as Rezaire reveals in her interview with OkayAfrica, her brand of work—though certainly related—has a bigger bone to pick with the web’s colonialist tendencies.

Rezaire’s intrepid, pop-heavy video installations have recently been featured at Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. Her work has made its way across the Atlantic for a show at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art (MoCADA) in Brooklyn titled “Sorry For Real,” which runs through April 10.

Jacolby Satterwhite Photo: J Grassi/Patrickmcmullan.com

Jacolby Satterwhite in action.
Photo: J Grassi/Patrickmcmullan.com.

7. Jacolby Satterwhite
As an artist pushing the Afrofuturist message back into the cultural conversation, Jacolby Satterwhite‘s deft experimentation with digital technology and its artistic possibilities has earned him widespread attention in recent years. His body of work is concerned with “themes of memory, desire, personal and public mythology.” A digital wizard and voguing extraordinaire, Satterwhite’s video pieces often encompass immersive landscapes where pop, queer, and art’s respective properties are synthesized into other-worldly realms of his making.

Earlier this year, Satterwhite joined a group exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London titled “Superhighway,” a show dedicated to articulating digital technology’s radical impact on artists working from the 1960’s to the present day. Satterwhite was also commissioned to create an interactive piece for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s grand opening this spring. Like Eric Mack, Satterwhite is represented by Moran Bondaroff Gallery in Los Angeles.


Jennifer Packer, Eric (2013).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

8. Jennifer Packer
Figurative painting benefits from counting American artist Jennifer Packer in its ranks. At the tail end of 2015, the New York-based painter mounted an exhibition titled “Breathing Room” at New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Gallery—home to the likes of Kara Walker, Vik Muniz and Sheila Hicks. The show ranged from portraiture to textured still lifes of flower arrangements—attracted the attention and praise of Artforum critic Abbe Schriber last December.

It’s worth noting that like Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Awol Erizku, Kevin Beasley, and Eric Mack—whose portrait she painted in 2013 (see above)—Packer is an alumna of Yale University’s MFA program. She  is currently represented by London-based gallery Corvi Mora. We look forward to hearing more from her in 2016.


Nina Chanel Abney, From If You Say So… (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

9. Nina Chanel Abney
Should the art world cast its gaze on the firestorm that is the Black Lives Matter movement, it needn’t look any further than artist Nina Chanel Abney for an artistic authority. In an interview with Vanity Fair (which dubbed Abney a champion of the movement), the American artist revealed that industry recognition sprung from early interest in her politically-charged MFA thesis show in 2008. Years later, her paintings continue to reflect episodes of police brutality and institutional humiliation.

Earlier this year, Abney joined four artists in “Flatlands,” a group exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art that runs through April 24.

As one of the latest artists in residence at Gateway Project Spaces in Newark, New Jersey, Abney’s new solo exhibition is on view until March 18.


Derrick Adams, Crossroads (2012).
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

10. Derrick Adams
Though Derrick Adams is a little seasoned for our lineup of up-and-comers, his forthcoming role as curator for a section at VOLTA gives us reason to pay heed. The delegated 2,600-square-foot space will feature eight emerging artists working across mediums.

As a celebrated artist in his own right, Adams has shown at MoMA PS1, the Kitchen and, most recently, at last year’s Performa. He also served as curatorial director at Rush Arts Gallery in New York, a space that has historically shown numerous emerging artists of color.

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