When we think about history, we find that there are defining moments we can embrace in every era. Art happens to be one endeavor that consistently informs us about the history and culture of past societies. Whether it is a performance, literary or visual, art is significant. For this very reason, it is the mission of the Agora Culture, which I founded in 2013, to make people more aware of art’s importance.
Vanessa German is a performance and visual artist who lives and works in Pittsburgh. She creates mixed-media assemblage—collages with three-dimensional found objects—to create “contemporary power figures,” in her words, inspired by Congolese power figures. Through these creations, most of which depict huge black women that some would consider intimidating, she symbolically lifts women who are often seen negatively. German’s work has been included in several public collections, including those at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the David C. Driskell Center in College Park, Md.
After having this experience and spending time learning from seasoned collectors and art professionals, I believed that there was an opportunity to expose and educate others like myself. My goal is to add more diversity to the art conversation and to make people more aware that art is one of the few investments you can enjoy while it holds its value through generations and appreciates. Art builds a legacy.
One way that the Agora Culture cultivates this understanding and helps to make art more accessible is through our Art Basics classes. These online classes are a quick and easy guide through the art world for new art appreciators. We teach the important things you need to know before starting a collection, how to navigate an art museum, and which contemporary art fairs to attend, such as Art Basel and Frieze.
More importantly, we provide access to emerging artists whose work has a high probability of increasing in value over time. For example, we offer Art Salons that give new collectors opportunities to meet up-and-coming artists. These salons allow collectors to learn more about the artist’s work and practice in a comfortable environment, as well as network with other collectors. Finally, we combine these two components in a large event called Art on the Vine at Martha’s Vineyard. This year it will be held Aug. 16 in Edgartown, Mass. This one-day event will provide collectors and art appreciators with access to 25 contemporary artists who are on the rise, before their work soars out of reach.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month and the Agora Culture’s commitment to art education, we have selected 10 female artists of color you should keep your eye on. These women have exceptional pedigrees and have exhibited their work both nationally and internationally. Some have advanced degrees from noted art schools or have participated in top art residencies such as the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Artist-in-Residence program.
Beyond these artists’ education and experience, what the Agora Culture is most excited about is how they are approaching form and the figure. Some of the artists are placing the black body in positions that continue to challenge stereotypes, dispel myths and celebrate diversity.
Amy Sherald, a painter, was raised in Columbus, Ga., and is currently living and working in Baltimore. Her portrait-based work is autobiographical and places real people in imaginary places. Her works are in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture, both in Washington, D.C. Most recently she won first place in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, making her the first woman and African American to win the top prize. Her artwork will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. until Jan. 8, 2017.
ruby onyinyechi amanze
A Nigerian-born artist, ruby onyinyechi amanze was raised in the United Kingdom and now lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her current series, Aliens, Hybrids and Ghosts, is informed through her experiences growing up while living in between places, and it addresses the fluidity that one needs to navigate through these spaces. Most of her work consists of drawings on paper, with which she works in both small and large scale. She is currently participating in artist residencies at the Queens Museum and the Drawing Center, both in New York City.
Alexandria Smith is a mixed-media artist. Her collage-based work addresses identity and sexuality through her mythology of ribbons, legs and pigtails. She reimagines spaces within her work to create alternative worlds that still speak to the realities of the present day. She recently completed her residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Madison, Me., and is currently an artist in residence at Iowa University in Iowa City.
Jordan Casteel is a painter who recently received her MFA from the Yale University School of Art. Casteel works in large scale, creating figures that highlight men of color. Her current work is inspired by the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and subsequent trial. Responding to the tragedy, she created images that capture and portray the black male in a different light. She drew her inspiration from influential black men in her life—her father, brother, cousins and friends. Her goal is for black men to be seen outside of common stereotypes by placing them in intimate settings showing vulnerability and humanity. The artist, who is in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, will be part of the museum’s Open Studios on April 17.
Jamea Richmond-Edwards was born and raised in Detroit, and her work is heavily influenced by the drug addiction she witnessed in her parents and other family members. She has used her work to reposition women in her family and change their narrative. Through iconography and symbols, she places them in spiritual poses within her mixed-media collages to remember them in a more positive light. A graduate of Howard University, she has shown her work internationally and nationally. Richmond-Edwards’ work, which has been seen on the popular Fox TV show Empire, is currently on view in the exhibition “Circle of Friends,” which is at American University’s Katzen Art Center in Washington, D.C., until May 13.
Elia Alba is a multidisciplinary artist who works in photography. In her new series, the multifaceted the Supper Club, she depicts more than 60 contemporary artists of color in portraits, each of them under a moniker based on their creative practice. The artists, all of whom came of age in New York, represent a school of the artists’ friends. Her series includes a cross section of some of the most well-known names in contemporary art today, as well as some artists you will know in the coming years. The project also includes dinners where a diverse array of artists, curators, historians and collectors come together to address topics related to global blackness.
A painter, Mequitta Ahuja lives and works in Baltimore. Her new body of work, Performing Painting, places the artist, who is shown as the subject of her figurative work, in a scene inspired by Giotto, the Italian Renaissance painter known for his masterful frescoes. In her painting, Ahuja is the main subject and she replaces Christian iconographical symbols with those of her African-American and Southeast Asian background. Ahuja’s works can be seen at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the exhibition “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now” through May 29.
Ebony G. Patterson
Ebony G. Patterson is a Jamaican artist whose work depicts people’s visibility and invisibility through various media. Her most recent work, … when they grow up … , addresses the crimes of children and youths of color, who are often viewed as violent and savage. Patterson has also had her work included on the TV show Empire. Her first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem will open March 24.
Lina Iris Viktor
A Liberian conceptual painter, Lina Iris Viktor grew up in London. She is known for working with 24-karat gold and using only the colors blue, black and white. Her work consists of simple geometric shapes that repeat throughout the canvas, and in many instances she includes herself in her work. The foundation of her art centers on order, natural law and science. Her work is on view in the exhibition “The Art of Jazz” at the Cooper Gallery at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., through May 8.
Jessica Stafford Davis is a multicultural-art expert and founder of the Agora Culture, which launched in July 2013. Stafford Davis sits on the boards of the Washington Project for the Arts and the Advisory Council for George Mason University School of Art. She has been featured in Forbes and the International Review of African American Art and on Good Morning Washington.