14 Extraordinary Black Women Artists Are Now On View In Brooklyn

The first exhibition featuring the work of exclusively black women artists took place in New York in 1971 ― it was titled “Where We At.”

Artists Vivian E. Browne, Dindga McCannon and Faith Ringgold organized the grassroots show, which featured the work of 14 artists at a Greenwich Village gallery run by artist and dealer Nigel Jackson. The exhibition’s success inspired the participating artists to form a collective, called WWA for short, who together went on to orchestrate other exhibitions, panel discussions, seminars and art workshops for local youth and incarcerated individuals. The cooperative went on to coordinate shows, publications and community events well into the 1980s. 

While the WWA artists adhered to many of the dominant ideologies of second-wave feminism ― equal pay for women, equal representation for women artists, equal respect for women’s work ― they aligned themselves with the black arts movement above the women’s liberation movement, which was led, for the most part, by white middle-class women.

Almost 50 years later, an exhibition devoted to the revolutionary impact of black female artists is now on view at The Brooklyn Museum. Titled “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” the exhibition picks up six years before WWA and concludes 14 years after, including the work of 40 artists who grappled with the political, social and aesthetic implications of making art as a woman of color.

The show guides viewers through the black women artists who, without artistic antecedent or support from white male-dominated artistic institutions, went on to create work that is avant-garde, fearless, joyful, radical, angry and invigorating ― and often all at once. The exhibition is radically diverse in terms of the techniques and media included, which include performance, film, video art, conceptual art, photography, painting, sculpture and printmaking. The styles too run the gamut, from Barbara Chase-Riboud’s abstract sculpture ― which resembles an inky ballgown as much as an impenetrable shield ― to Emma Amos’ earth-toned painting of a couple slow dancing in their living room. 

The discrimination women artists of color face is not something of the past. In a climate where it is still difficult for most people to name five women artists, black women continue to be under-represented on museum walls, auction blocks and in history books. Today collectives like Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter and Black Art Incubator rigorously hold the art world accountable for its prejudices and blind spots.

This exhibition honors the black women who laid the groundwork for such contemporary artists, activists and artist-activists, whose influence on contemporary feminism and contemporary art is nothing less than cosmic. 

1. Senga Nengudi (American, b. 1943)

Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Burt Aaron, the Council for Feminist Art, and the Alfred T. White Fund // Photo: Sarah DeSantis

Senga Nengudi (American, born 1943), “Inside/Outside,” 1977, nylon, mesh, rubber, approximately 60 x 24 inches. 

2. Jae Jarrell (American, b. 1935)

Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R.M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange, Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund // Photo: Sarah DeSantis

Jae Jarrell (American, born 1935), “Ebony Family,” circa 1968, velvet dress with velvet collage.

3. Dindga McCannon (American, b. 1947)

Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R. M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange, Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund // Photo: Jonathan Dorado

Dindga McCannon (American, born 1947). “Revolutionary  Sister,” 1971, mixed media construction on wood, 62 x 27 inches. 

4. Faith Ringgold (American, b. 1930)

Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler // Photo: Sarah DeSantis

Faith Ringgold (American, b. 1930), “Early Works #25: Self-Portrait,” 1965, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches. 

5. Beverly Buchanan (American, 1940–2015)

Estate of Beverly Buchanan, courtesy of Jane Bridges

Beverly Buchanan (American, 1940-2015), “Untitled (Frustula Series),” circa 1978, cast concrete.

6. Emma Amos (American, b. 1938)

Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE New York, Licensed by VAGA New York

Emma Amos (America, born 1938), “Sandy and Her Husband,” 1973, oil on canvas, 44.25 x 50.25 inches.

7.  Barbara Chase-Riboud (American, b. 1939)

University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, purchased with funds from the H. W. Anderson Charitable Foundation, Courtesy of representative Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Barbara Chase-Riboud (American, born 1939), “Confessions for Myself,” 1972, black patinated bronze with wool, 120 x 40 x  12 inches. 

8. Maren Hassinger (American, b. 1947)

Courtesy of the artist Maren Hassinger // Photo: Adam Avila

Maren Hassinger (American, born 1947), “Leaning,” 1980, wire and wire rope,16 inches x variable width and depth.

9. Lorraine O’Grady (American, b. 1934)

Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates / Artists Rights Society ARS New York

Lorraine O’Grady (American, born 1934), “Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Goes to the New Museum,” 1981, oerformed at the New Museum, New York, gelatin silver print, 9.25 x 7 inches.

10. Howardena Pindell (American, b. 1930)

Howardena Pindell. Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery New York.

Howardena Pindell (American, born 1930), “Still from Free, White and 21,” 1980, video, 12 minutes and 15 seconds.

11. Betye Saar (American, b. 1926)

Betye Saar courtesy the artist and Roberts Tilton. Culver City, California. Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum

Betye Saar (American, born 1926), “Liberation of Aunt Jemima: Cocktail,” 1973, mixed-media assemblage, 12 x 18 inches. 

12. Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)

Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery New York

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953), “Mirror Mirror,” 1987-88, silver print, 24.75 x 20.75 inches.

13. Lona Foote (American, 1948–1993)

Estate of Lona Foote courtesy of Howard Mandel, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Lona Foote (American, 1948-1993), “Blondell Cummings performing Blind Dates at Just Above Midtown Gallery, November 1982,” 1982, photograph, 10 x 8 inches.

14. Lorna Simpson (American, b. 1960)

Courtesy of Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson (American, born 1960), “Rodeo Caldonia” (Left to Right: Alva Rogers, Sandye Wilson, Candace Hamilton, Derin Young, Lisa Jones), 1986, photographic print, 8 x 10 inches.

“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” runs until Sept. 17 at The Brooklyn Museum as part of the institution’s “Year of Yes.”

Welcome to Battleground, where art and activism meet.

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