Art in the age of black girl magic

Black Blossoms is on a mission to improve the visibility of black women in art. The duo behind the organisation, Bolanle Tajudeen and Cynthia Silveira have worked together curating exhibitions that have toured the UK providing opportunities for public engagement with black contemporary art. 

This year, Bolanle will be teaching Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic, a four-week course at Tate Britain and Cynthia has devised Curate!, a toolkit for youth organisations which will increase 12-to-17-year-olds’ understanding of curation whilst exposing them to artists of colour. Here the pair explain why they’ve decided to get involved in these projects...

We both love art but western art history is heavily weighted towards white male artists: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Van Gogh, the list goes on. There has been a culture of erasure amongst museum institutions, critics and art dealers prompting criticism from theorists like Stuart Hall and the Blk Art Group. The latter of who organised the First National Black Art Convention in response to the marginalisation of black artists. Collectives like the Guerrilla Girls have been calling out racial and sexual discrimination in the art world since 1984 and there hasn’t been significant change in that time.

Bolanle Tajudeen (left) and Cynthia Silveira, founders of Black Blossoms

Showcasing black female art is extremely important. Their work is a visual record of their world experience, personally, politically and socially. It almost immediately serves as a historical account which can be used by future generations to gain insight into the experiences of black women.

Walking through western art museums, very few black women are present in the works on display. And when they are it is usually in a position of servitude or exoticised, as these works have been created by non-black artists. Black female art gives black women the opportunity to see themselves represented in a more accurate light.

For example, African American artist Carrie Mae Weems is the main subject in her Kitchen Table Series, which explores interpersonal relationships. Although the work is universal to many women’s experiences, we can’t help but see the racial nuance and how showing black women in a natural and tender way can be a catalyst in challenging damaging stereotypes.

Last year, Black Blossoms toured 31 black women artists’ work across the UK, including Heather Agyepong’s ‘Habitus’ photographic portrait series. This included short interviews with black women. One of the interviews discussed the term ‘misogynoir’, which is misogyny directed towards black women with race and gender both playing roles in the bias. An attendee to the exhibition had never heard the term before and he told us that he would be introducing it to diversity sessions at his workplace.

Black Blossoms Liverpool exhibition

This, along with many other responses to the tour, has made us confident that the ‘Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic’ course will create new attitudes towards black women artists and more generally black women. We’re hoping participants acquire knowledge and confidence to discuss black women art with their peers and communities, creating a new cycle of art history knowledge.

The Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic course is one of many corrective steps in increasing the visibility of black women artists. Less than three years ago, even Bolanle – a graduate of the University of the Arts London – found it hard to name more than five black women artists. She’s spent a lot of time researching the past, whilst simultaneously working with emerging black women artists to create the course.

Covering four main areas (the genesis of black feminism in art; women in the black British art movement; curation, criticism and intervention; and art in the age of black girl magic), the course is an introduction to black women artists and a great opportunity to legitimise their place in the art history canon.

Black women’s contributions to the arts should be highly valued and brought to the forefront of art discourse and this is an opportunity to reassert the impact that black art has had on the world. As young people working today we often forget that there are people who came before us who were fighting the same fight. It’s an opportunity to build on history and archive all the work and movements happening today for the next generation to learn from.

Bolanle Tajudeen's daughter at a Black Blossoms exhibition in London in front of a painting by Mikela Henry Lowe

When you’ve been historically marginalised and the only representation you have of yourself in the art world is often fetishising or demoralising it can be discouraging. We started wondering whether there will ever really be a place for us in the art world, it is very easy to get to a place where you start doubting your accomplishments. Which is why we feel that representation, role models, and mentorship is really important.

Convincing people why Black Blossoms was important was tough but we made a decision to stop focusing on negative comments about how it could be divisive. Engaging in conversations about whether or not the platform was important was counterproductive. Instead we’ve used our energy to find ways to create opportunities for black women artists.

But it’s not without its challenges. The quickest way for change to happen is through funding but it has been difficult to get grants because of government cuts. The next option is finding cultural philanthropists, which is also very difficult. In fact, only one per cent of philanthropy is given to the arts each year. Many see the arts as a luxury but art is such an important part of our daily lives and it has the power to transform the world for the better.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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