Recently, as a Senior Art Major at Vanderbilt University, I had the great honor of taking an educational trip to New York City with my classmates, courtesy of the Hamblet Family Endowment. One of the most influential exhibitions I got to see was Fictions, at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Fictions is a survey of recent artwork by a group of young artists of African descent living and working in the United States. The show was curated by Associate Curator, Connie H. Choi, and Assistant Curator, Hallie Ringle. In an interview with artsy.net, Connie Choi reveals that they didn’t approach this show with a particular theme in mind. Instead, they found that certain themes kept coming up in their search through artists and their studio visits. These young artists consistently engage in creating alternative narratives that harken back to personal experiences, historical references, and the deep roots of racism in America. Honestly, every single artwork in this show is remarkable. The focus of this week’s blog will be on one particularly inspirational artist/Wonder Woman: Amy Sherald.
On display in the exhibition, are two of Amy Sherald’s paintings. Acutely aware of the scarcity of black faces in art history, Ms. Sherald exclusively paints African Americans. Her characters are painted in a stylized realistic portrait format, with a grayish skin tone contrasted by vibrant patterned clothing on a flat plane. Her subjects stand firm and calm, but there is no denying that there’s something powerful and evocative about their spirit. Although the color palette and attire reflect contemporary choices, her figures stand in a timeless world. They muster up conversations about both history and the future.
Ms. Sherald’s art has recently catapulted her toward phenomenal success. Her career was interrupted quite a few times, having been diagnosed with congestive heart failure as she was finishing up her master’s degree. Later, she took a break from school to care for ill family members back home in Georgia. Having also lost her father and brother to illness, Sherald serves as nothing less than an inspiration to everyone around her, continuing to push through adversity and maintain compassion for those less fortunate in her community. According to an interview for the New York Times, Ms. Sherald is not very far at all from the days of waiting tables to pay for a studio with no heat or air conditioning. Nevertheless, she plans to financially support those in need within her region once she pays off her school loans and medical bills.
Having recently entered the world of international distinction in art, her paintings have been acquired by museums such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. It is with incredible honor that Ms. Sherald has recently been commissioned to paint former First Lady, Michelle Obama’s official portrait. This is the first time that black artists have been chosen to paint presidential portraits, and this commission certainly has profound historical significance for the Nation. Amy Sherald is an artist who proudly paints African Americans, and Ms. Obama has momentously chosen to break away from the conventional portrait tradition and declare pride in such a rich and beautiful culture.