The Representation of Black Women in African American Art

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Black women representation in African American art is a contemporary topic that has attracted many artists and scholars across the world. Black women were portrayed in a different manner in comparison to the white people. This is because black people were viewed as property and not human beings. Through art, these artists were able to communicate to those societies and modern societies that we live in. To understand how black women were represented in African American art, three artworks will be used to indicate oppression, nudity, female orientation and power from different artists.

The Charles White, Wanted poster #6, 1969 Oil wash on board is a prominent artwork, which was among a number of other artworks collected by White. This artwork is significant in African-American literature and lifestyle because of the meaning it has. From its view, the portrait measures 59 3/4 * 3915/16 in and its medium is oil wash on board (Lewis). The color of this artwork for the most part of it is pale white and black because the representation of the two black women covers most part of it. The style adopted by this artwork is that of a painting to give the viewer a better representation of African-American women in ancient American society because in a painting an artist can project different colors to give a clear picture of the art. The use of a board to paint on allows the painter to project various details such as the stars in the American flag and the numbers behind the woman who is standing. In major arts focusing on representing black women, artists major on projecting the way in which the whites perceived the African race. For instance, in this artwork, it represents runaway slaves who were held captive in colonial American societies as property and not human beings (Lewis). According to Halperin, colonial systems in America encouraged the slave trade, which is in contrast to ethical doctrines (Halperin). In this artwork, the flag behind the women indicates that high authority was aware of their suffering but did nothing to help eliminate the racism mentality. In addition, the reason why this artwork is classified as a runaway slave is that the black people were oppressed and were determined to seek justice and equality.

The representation of black women in African American Art mostly projected their nude bodies indicating that they were not respected. From this artwork, the two women are nude and barefooted indicating this was the real depiction of a black woman. This artwork depicts that the white people did not value black women despite the struggles they went through to help America get to where it is now. According to Acquaye, black women nudity was compared to how animals live because the black people were sites of intense labor and pleasure when the white man felt like (Acquaye). This artwork brilliantly projects that because the bigger part of the portrait is covered by a woman standing with her breasts exposed to the naked eye of the viewer. Female orientation can be derived from this artwork because the black women bodies are not respected at all to the point of being painted while nude. This brings about various aspects of the African American revolution whereby the black people were against British rule because it did not favor them at all (Halperin). The British saw the black people as property, which is evident in the Charles White, Wanted poster #6. Ancient artists were widely recognized for such painting because they expressed the real meaning of how the British rulers perceived black women. This also reflects that the African American revolution enlightened many slaves to the point of some running away thus the rulers gave a price for the person who returned the slave as seen from the artwork above.

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Renee Stout, Fetish #2 is an artwork by Renee Stout who deals with African American literature and art. Fetish #2 artwork represents a woman who stands out in society because she is different from the others. The materials used in this artwork include plaster that covers almost the entire surface area of the artwork (Dallas Museum of Art). In addition, glass is used at the stomach of the sculpture because it depicts the full body of an African American woman. To give a natural look, the artist painted the surface black, which can be seen to be a little bit bright indicating that the color is in several layers (Dallas Museum of Art). As seen from the artwork, the African woman is portrayed in a nude way symbolizing a pattern in the African American literature and art. In reference to black woman representation in African American art, the sculpture is shaped to detail projecting the naked body of a woman. Although an American does the representation of the woman, it represents the Nkisi figure, a traditional fetish person in the Yombe community found in Zaire, Africa (Dallas Museum of Art). Nudity in African American art is a common feature and style, which is embraced by many artists (Sayej). Unlike the ancient art representing black women, this sculpture portrays magic and power associated with the women. On her stomach is a glass-made medical pouch resting from the neck downwards. This glass material on the pouch signifies her ability to forecast what will happen. Therefore, unlike other arts, this sculpture gives the African-American womanpower over other beings because, for a long time, the black people have suffered under the rule of the whites.

Representation of women in African American art is done brilliantly from the braided extensions that are attached to the head. In the African tradition, braided hair was and is linked to ancient culture, which is a major feature in many African artworks (Mance). The braided extensions on the sculptures’ head project power and a rich recognition of the black woman in society. This artwork makes use of cowrie shells that are used as eyes for the woman. In African American representation of the black women, natural artifacts were used to indicate how deep the culture runs in these people (Mance). In addition, the spiritual importance of the materials used in this artwork is the same as indicated in major African American art and should be respected. From this artwork, female orientation is carried through the viewer’s experience because her breasts are exposed like in other African American artwork. Secondly, from the glass covering surrounding the sculpture, one can view her buttocks indicating a female orientation in a positive way unlike in ancient African American artwork (Dallas Museum of Art). By choosing to oppose British rule in colonial America, this artwork serves as an indication that black people, especially women, were strong than perceived by the white man (Mance). Renee Stout who is a significant figure in African American art is praised for the representation of the black woman in this way because it is different from ancient African American representations in art.

Barkley Hendricks, Lawdy Mama is a recent artwork like Renee Stout’s Fetish #2, which portrays an urban black woman in the 19th century. Known for her enthusiasm in African American art, Lawdy Mama illustrates the black woman in a different way from ancient artworks. The artwork, which takes the style of a painting, is done that to show project all the details from the skin color, the color of her clothes and the background. The color of the painting is black painted on a gold-leaf background that helps the figure’s details to be seen clearly (Russeth). The woman in the painting is from an African background due to her color skin, which is lighter than the color of her hair and clothes. The style embraced in this artwork brilliantly expresses African American art in ancient and modern societies. One major feature and style used in this painting is the afro hair that the woman has on her head, which relates to African traditions and culture. The afro hair is used as a representation of black women beauty, which is like the braided extensions (Russeth). However, this painting has a distinct feature that is supported by Hendricks need to increase black people art in the field of African American art. This feature, which is a fully covered woman in clothes, is different from previous artwork from different artists and painters (Mance). The presence of cloths symbolizes an awakening of black women in modern society from the 19th century unlike in those colonial periods where the black women were not valued at all.

The world of art normally shares and educates many people across the world hence the less the number of black women representation in the art can lead to the erosion of black culture beliefs and ideas. For this reason, Hendricks noticed that in the late 19th century, black women were not represented in the right manner (Russeth). This contributes to the reason why she championed the addition of black women artists in the art world so that she could communicate the urban views of the African American woman. According to Sayej, ancient artists did not give women dignity and respect while representing them in the art (Sayej). Hendricks tried to deliver a similar aspect while painting the ‘Lawdy Mama’ in 1969. From a broader perspective, this art is found in the Studio Museum in Harlem which was among the regions in America that realized the value of the black people especially women representation in art. Ancient artists unlike urban artists such as Hendricks who value women and their bodies even in art misinterpreted female orientation. This indicates that throughout the African American revolution, women suffered a great deal of oppression and lack of support especially from the white man and Europeans (Russeth). As one reflects on the evolution of art from colonial America to urban America, African American revolution seems to be one of the major aspects of driving artists and the art world. For Hendricks, the Lawdy Mama represents an appreciated version of a black woman, unlike the ancient artists who diminished women to the point of painting them while nude as they were treated in the society.

In conclusion, the three artworks used to illustrate African American women representation in art offer a brilliant perspective on nudity, women and power and their position in colonial America. All artists have used different designs to their artwork thus giving the reader different perspectives of various styles of art. Women orientation and their role in the African-American revolution is evident, as the artists contributed to achieving a position in this society.

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