Renowned artist Kadir Nelson paints to reflect the strength and spirituality of black history to remind black people of their own beauty, divinity and inner hero.

Photo: Artist Kadir Nelson, Oprah Winfrey and Jungmiwha Bullock stand beside Nelson’s painting of Henrietta Lacks at the Washington, D.C., premiere of HBO Films’ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on April 19, 2017 (Paul Morigi (Getty Images for HBO))

His work has been featured in many prominent institutions, including the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the U.S House of Representatives and museums around the world. You might also recognize his work from New Yorker magazine covers, postage stamps, children’s books and your favorite musician’s album covers (most notably, Michael Jackson and Drake.)

Illustration: Kadir Nelson, “Shirley Anita Chisholm,” 2008 (Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Nelson has several paintings that focuses on the theme of the African-American hero, which he uses to empower the hero within the viewer.


In the video above, he states:

“When I think of Nelson Mandela or if it’s Martin Luther King or baseball players in the Negro Baseball Leagues I think they all share a common theme. They’ve been able to overcome great obstacles by becoming the hero that dwells within them. They’ve been able to draw on something bigger than themselves to create change in the world to create change in themselves and change in the world. And I think we all have that we all have the potential to do that. I like to focus on the the inner strength that people have. I want my subjects to have dignity. I want them to have strength. I want them to have an inner spirit that shows outwardly in my work because, one, that’s that’s what I want for myself. I want that person to emote that because I want to emote that. And if I feel that way when I’m creating an image or portraying a subject, then I think people, when they see it, they will feel that as well”


He discusses his love of history, a look into some of his major pieces, what he hopes to communicate to the African-American community and the importance of documenting black history. Also he offers an inside look into the illustration from his upcoming book with Kwame Alexander entitled, The Undefeated. It also focuses on the legacy of African-American heroes—the popular as well as overlooked. It is set to be released in spring of this year.

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About the author

Peter J. Rickards

Spoiled Jamaican with one job: Video Producer @ TheRoot.