Deputy Editor Ilaria Riccio talks about some of the greatest Black female creative masterminds that are currently ruling the arts world.
The talent and craft of Black creatives has historically been overshadowed by their white peers. In the case of Black female artists, the intersection of race and gender often exacerbates difficulties in affirming themselves in their respective creative fields. For this reason, British website blackhistorymonth.org.uk chose “Saluting Our Sisters” as the main theme for this year’s Black History Month, focusing on the experiences of Black women and shared throughout Black History Month. In this way, Black History Month becomes an opportunity for celebrating Black women’s contribution to the creative world and beyond, shedding light on their undeniable contribution to their respective medium of artistic expression.
OTwo participates in these celebrations by looking at the vast pool of Black female creatives - from Ireland and beyond - who are leaving their marks in the arts world. Alongside it-girls including Zendaya, Ayo Edibiri and Issa Rae, other branches of the creative industry can count on the talent of Black female masterminds. For instance, makeup is an art form in which Black female creatives excel. Notably, Pat McGrath is amongst the most decorated makeup artists still active, and her eponymous brand features products of the highest quality that are highly requested by the top tiers of the fashion industry. Of course, we cannot talk about makeup without mentioning Rihanna, whose brand has changed the game when it comes to foundations that are inclusive to all skin tones: thanks to Fenty Beauty, several makeup brands have taken steps for being more inclusive of darker skin tones.
From Black female creatives who use faces as a canvas, Amy Sherald is perhaps the most prominent Black portrait painter currently active. Born in the American state of Georgia, Sherald’s work has always privileged African American subjects. The peculiarity of Sherald’s work relates to how she represents the skin of the protagonists of her artworks: specifically, Sherald uses greyscale - meaning that, the skin is painted using different shades of grey - in an attempt to challenge the very concept of skin colour and the idea of “colour-as-race.” Former US First Lady Michelle Obama acknowledged Sherald’s talent, and commissioned her an official portrait in 2018. However, it is her portrait of Breonna Taylor that consecrated Sherald amongst the most important Black creatives currently active. Forbes described the painting as “the most important painting of the 21st Century,” picturing Taylor - who was brutally murdered in her house by police officers who forced entry into her house in March 2020 - in a turquoise dress. This had a dual purpose: offering an image of Breonna Taylor beyond the brutality of her murder, and allowing Sherald to participate in her own way to the Black Lives Matter protests that filled the streets in 2020.
Sherald uses greyscale - meaning that, the skin is painted using different shades of grey - in an attempt to challenge the very concept of skin colour and the idea of ‘colour-as-race.’
In an interview with The Guardian, Sherald stated that she doesn’t like to define her work as revolutionary since, to her, the word better suits activists and politicians. There is, however, an underlying politics to Sherald’s work, as she is committed to represent Blackness beyond the oppression traditionally associated with it - or, in her own words as reported by The Guardian, “bringing a kind of poetry to Black figuration.” The Guardian acknowledges that the way Sherald feels about her craft resonates with how she comes across as a person: “It’s a negotiation of the public versus the private and what deserves space in the narratives we showcase to the world.” Thus, alongside offering an immeasurable contribution to the creative world, Sherald’s approach also sparks reflection on the underlying politics of visual art regardless of race.
There is, however, an underlying politics to Sherald’s work, as she is committed to represent Blackness beyond the oppression traditionally associated with it.
These reflections on the ultimate purpose of art can be transposed to another example of visual art - photography. Whilst often considered merely a tool for objective reporting, photography can be an extremely subjective art form, thus becoming a vehicle for self-expression. An Irish, Black female photographer does just this: Nigerian-born Tessy Ehiguese is a TU Dublin graduate who takes a captivating approach to photography by combining it with graphic design and fine art. Ehiguese stays true to the origins of the medium but also keeps up with the modernisation of visual art. Her work has been featured in the Photo Museum Ireland in Temple Bar, Dublin. Notably, she participated in an exhibit that reflected on how ethnic minorities contribute to creative life around Dublin. Alongside her own self-expression, Ehiguese has collaborated with several publications, particularly in the fields of fashion and music. With her creative approach to the medium, Ehiguese is pushing the boundaries on what photography can be; the fact Ehiguese hails from Ireland is thus a source of pride for the Black Irish creative community - particularly (Black) women.
With her creative approach to the medium, Ehiguese is pushing the boundaries on what photography can be.
The creatives mentioned here are only a handful of the many Black female artistic masterminds still active - in Ireland and in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the presence of these creatives testifies to a thriving, global artistic community that acknowledges the talent of Black women, and celebrates them beyond Black History Month.