Black art’s presence, future are focus of discussion

THE TIFFANY – In the last few years, the art landscape in St. Louis has drawn notable names to its galleries and museums.
Among the artists are Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, painters best known for their official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, respectively. Other artists have included Mickalene Thomas and Toyin Ojih Odutola, continuing to boost interest in black art.
Young artists are now coming together to discuss black art’s increasing presence in the art world and whether that popularity will continue.
Artists in the Room is a group of visual artists, writers and scholars from the St. Louis area that hosts events discussing and showcasing black art. The group is “dedicated to connecting emerging black artists in the city with established artists around the world,” it says.
Last month, the group gathered at 3300 Blaine Ave. to discuss the state of the black arts, with a panel that included people involved in the arts in St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and beyond.
“Pop culture is creating a space for black art,” panelist Dominic Chambers said. Chambers said that with the rise in popularity of music celebrities such as the Carters, as well as rap artists’ mentioning high-brow art in lyrics, the public is becoming more aware of black art outside of traditional museums and galleries.
Chambers, who recently eared his MFA from Yale University School of Art, said he had seen a trend concerning who has access to black art, as well as which artists have the most visibility. He explained to the audience that many young black artists lack the same opportunities to showcase their work as their peers who have attended prestigious universities.
The panel touched on the importance of self care for artists under pressure to perform and produce work consistently, often in short amounts of time.
“There are artists who are actively and aggressively participating,” said Amani Olu, a writer and entrepreneur from Detroit. But Olu said that black artists he worked with tended to protect their peace of mind by not discussing their work at length with white spectators and journalists.
For many artists working to get their work recognized, it’s a balance between keeping their integrity as a creative person, and struggling for recognition from spaces that have historically kept black artists at bay. As a result, many artists feel the need to accept every opportunity that comes their way.
“The four years I worked with an artist, I saw a lot change,” said LaKeisha Leeks, an art advocate and curator from Chicago. “The direction of his work changed, how much he was putting out, and what he was saying yes to. The question he always came back to was, ‘What if this doesn’t happen again? I have to say yes.’”
Because of this, Leeks said, when she works with young black artists, she focuses more on their health and well-being than on the work they’re producing.
The panel recognized that black art is not a monolith and is always changing. The concern lies with society and whether galleries and exclusive spaces will continue to accept, praise and uplift black artists even if the current trend of acknowledging diversity loses momentum.

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