16 Black Artists to Know Now

16 Black Artists to Know Now
Image Detail: Widline Cadet (JGS Fellow in Photography '20), "Seremoni Disparisyon #1 (Ritual [Dis]Appearance #1)," 2019, archival pigment print

These NYFA affiliated artists are making work that speaks to the depth and breadth of the Black experience.

Below, we are highlighting recent NYFA grant recipients who are working across disciplines and exploring, examining, and celebrating what it means to be Black in the world today—shining a light on issues of history, geography, identity, and representation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, though our goal was to also highlight artists, writers, and performers with new or recent work. Read on for more, presented in alphabetical order:

OlaRonke Akimowo

OlaRonke Akinmowo (Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts ’20) is an interdisciplinary artist who creates hand-cut collages, handmade paper sculptures, abstract monotypes and interactive biblio-installations. Through her work, she creates moments that center, celebrate, and explore Black femininity, Black womanhood, and Black life. In 2015, she created The Free Black Women’s Library, an ongoing literary art project and interactive installation that features a collection of 2,500 books written by Black women. Follow Akinmowo at @thefreeblackwomenslibrary on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Noel W Anderson

Noel W Anderson (Fellow in Interdisciplinary Work ’18)’s work focuses on the mediation of socially-constructed images on identity formation as it relates to black masculinity and celebrity. He explores these themes through Jacquard tapestries that feature images captured from archival and contemporary sources. The Jacquard weave recalls analog, while accompanying sound and video further develop the artist’s dialogue with how technological developments have changed our seeing. Anderson’s work was recently on view at Anne De Villepoix, Paris and will be on view in a forthcoming exhibition at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery, Luxembourg. Follow Anderson at @nwandersonart on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Kenseth Armstead

Kenseth Armstead (Fellow in Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design ’19 and Video/Film ’96) has created provocative conceptual art for three decades. Armstead’s Boulevard of African Monarchs installation—on view at 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd through August 2021—connects Harlem, a hub of African excellence in America, to Tiebele, Burkina Faso, royal court of the Kassena people. The installation celebrates Africans and their diaspora, proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” in three dimensions. Armstead is currently developing an experimental prototype of “True North, Every Negro is a Star,” an artwork that commemorates every enslaved African who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. It will be displayed from June -September 2021 in Riverside Park in New York, NY as part of an exhibition titled Re:Growth a celebration of Art. Follow Armstead at @kenseth.armstead on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Image: detail shot of Kenseth Armstead's site-specific installation “Boulevard of African Monarchs" that highlights the aluminum plate construction.
Image: Kenseth Armstead (Fellow in Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design ’19 and Video/Film ’96); “Boulevard of African Monarchs;” site specific installation at 116th Street and Adam Clayton Boulevard, New York, NY; aluminum plate and shoe polish; Photo Credit: Liz Ligon

Widline Cadet

Widline Cadet (JGS Fellow in Photography ’20) is a Haitian-born artist whose practice draws from personal history and examines race, memory, erasure, migration, immigration, and Haitian cultural identity from within the U.S. Cadet uses photography, video, and installations to construct a visual language that explores notions of visibility and hyper visibility, black feminine interiority, and selfhood. Cadet was one of 22 artists to be featured in Galerie magazine’s “Next Big Things List” and was included in Cultured Magazine’s “Young Artists 2021” roundup. She is currently a 2020-21 artist in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Follow Cadet at @widline_ on Instagram to keep up with her work. 

Elizabeth Colomba

Elizabeth Colomba (Fellow in Painting ’18) was born in France and raised in Épinay-sur-Seine by parents of Martinican descent. In her work, Colomba explores the totality of social experience, fusing together her two worlds (French and Caribbean). While acknowledging the past, she wishes to reshape the narratives and bend an association of ideas so that a Black individual in a period setting is no longer synonymous with subservience and, by extension, does not instill fear or mistrust. Colomba’s work is currently on view at Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA through April 11, 2021. Follow Colomba at @elizabethcolomba on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Nona Faustine

Nona Faustine (Fellow in Photography ’19)’s work focuses on history, identity, representation, and evoking a critical and emotional understanding of the past, proposing a deeper examination of contemporary racial and gender stereotypes. In January 2020, Faustine participated in the inaugural class of Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal Residency. You can see work by Faustine in Queens, NY as part of Socrates Sculpture Park’s MONUMENTS NOW exhibition (on through March 2021). She will also participate in the group show Fantasy America at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA from March 5-August 30, 2021. Follow Faustine at @nonafaustine on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Ayana Evans

Ayana Evans (Fellow in Interdisciplinary Work ’18) is an artist, professor, feminist, and sometimes curator. Evans often puts her body at risk in grueling guerrilla-style public performance works to critique culture and confront her audience, which is intended to increase human connectedness. She is perhaps known best for her “Operation Catsuit” persona, which was designed to “highlight the repercussions of racism and misogyny, as well as the power of a woman taking up space in ways that are traditionally reserved for cis straight men in the United States.” Watch Evans talk about “Persona as Social Justice” here via University of Michigan’s “Penny Stamps Speaker Series.”

Image Detail: This is a photo of a black woman on Central Park West wearing a hot pink prom gown that has been pulled down to her waist with a piece of astro-turf wrapped around her mid section as a tube top. She is doing chair dip exercises in the street in oncoming traffic.
Image Detail: Ayana Evans (Fellow in Interdisciplinary Work ’18), “Stopping Traffic” 2016, performance art, Photo Credit: Gonzalo Marroquin

t’ai freedom ford

t’ai freedom ford (Fellow in Poetry ’20) is a Black, queer, masculine presenting woman whose writing is informed by these identities and how to negotiate the mainstream/dominant American culture that seeks to marginalize hers and similar voices. ford’s second collection of poems, & more black (Augury Books, 2019), was recognized with a 2020 Lambda Literary Award in the category of Lesbian Poetry and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award in Poetry. The poems take their cues from Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnets as they rhapsodize and dialogue with artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Glenn Ligon, and Wangechi Mutu, along with many other musicians, artists, and writers. Follow ford at @taifreedomford on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Derek Fordjour

Derek Fordjour (Fellow in Painting ’18) is an interdisciplinary artist who explores complex themes of race, political insubordination, inequality, and American society through imagery from carnivals, parades, and other celebratory settings. His SELF MUST DIE solo exhibition recently closed at Petzel Gallery; the twice daily puppet show experience “Fly Away” was included on Vulture’s “10 Best Theater Moments of 2020” list. The exhibition examined the nature of martyrdom, vulnerabilities inherent to living in a Black body, performance of competency, and the liminal space existing between autonomy and control. Follow Fordjour at @fordjourstudio on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Allison Janae Hamilton

Allison Janae Hamilton (Fellow in Interdisciplinary Work ’18) is a visual artist working in sculpture, installation, photography, video, and taxidermy. She was born in Kentucky, raised in Florida, and her maternal family’s farm and homestead lies in the rural flatlands of western Tennessee. Hamilton’s relationship with these locations forms the cornerstone of her artwork, particularly her interest in landscape. Using plant matter, layered imagery, sounds, and animal remains, Hamilton creates immersive spaces that consider the ways that the American landscape contributes to concepts of “Americana” and the social construction of space, particularly within the rural American south. You can see her work in person at Marianne Boesky Gallery from March 25-April 24, 2021. Follow Hamilton at @allisonjanaehamilton on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Olalekan Jeyifous

Olalekan Jeyifous (Fellow in Digital/Electronic Arts ’20 and Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design ’04) is an artist/designer whose work often re-imagines social spaces around issues that explore the relationship between architecture, community, and the environment. He was commissioned, with collaborator Amanda Williams, to create a monument for Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, as part of the City of New York’s She Built NYC” initiative. The monument was originally slated for completion in 2020, but was delayed due to shutdowns stemming from COVID-19. You can see his work at Starbucks locations throughout New York City and in Chicago. Follow Jeyifous at @kidcadaver on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Image Detail: A young Muslim girl holding an antenna and wearing an oxygen mask.
Image Detail: Olalekan Jeyifous (Fellow in Digital/Electronic Arts ’20 and Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design ’04), “Anarchonauts [CHAT/SMS: 2115] Signal Booster,” 2019, digital collage


JSWISS (Fellow in Music/Sound ’19) is a rap artist whose inspiring messages, sharp wordplay, and energy moves crowds. His brand of hip-hop, reflective of his vast musical influences and life experiences, is infused with a heavy dose of what he calls “awthenticity.” His collaborative work with Grammy-winning trumpeter, producer, and composer Michael Leonhart has resulted in a newly-released five-song EP titled “The Alchemy EP.” Get a preview of it here from WNYC’s New Sounds. Follow JSWISS at @jswisshere on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko (Fellow in Choreography ’19) is a Nigerian-American choreographer, poet, curator, and performance artist. Kosoko’s work in performance is rooted in embodied ritual practice, poetics, Black critical studies, and queer theories of the body as a means to conjure and craft perpetual modes of freedom, healing, and care when/where/however possible. His latest work, American Chameleon: The Living Installments (2.0), is a hybrid multimedia living artwork that explores the ever-evolving ways in which digitality intersects with the fugitive realities and shapeshifting principles that Black queer people employ to survive and heal. Join him on Discord on Wednesdays at 1:00 PM EST to participate in his Radical Reimagining Group.

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

Joshua Rashaad McFadden (JGS Fellowship in Photography ’19) is a visual artist whose primary medium is photography. His work explores African American male identity, masculinity, notions of the father figure, and the photographic archive, and his practice provides a frame of reference that articulates the many personalities of Black men. McFadden also focuses his lens on social justice issues such as police brutality and has documented protests across the U.S. Aperture, in collaboration with the photography program at Parsons School of Design at The New School, will present an artist talk with McFadden on February 11, 2021. His early-career survey, Joshua Rashaad McFadden: I Believe I’ll Run On, will open at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY in July 2021. Follow McFadden at @joshua_rashaad on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Shamel Pitts

Shamel Pitts (Fellow in Choreography ’19, Fiscally Sponsored Artist) is a performance artist, choreographer, conceptual artist, dancer, spoken word artist, teacher, and 2020 Guggenheim Fellow in Choreography. Pitts is the choreographer of the play Help, by acclaimed poet and playwright Claudia Rankine, directed by Taibi Magar, and commissioned at The Shed in New York, NY. The play had entered preview performances in March 2020 when The Shed closed temporarily to help stop the spread of COVID-19; rescheduled dates for this production are TBD. Pitts is also the artistic director/founder of multidisciplinary arts collective TRIBE, which is currently in residence at 92Y Harkness Dance Center for the 2020-2021 season. Watch Lake of RED, TRIBE’s first official multidisciplinary art work, here. Follow Pitts at @shamelpitts on Instagram to keep up with his work.

Image Detail: This photo of "BLACK VELVET" was taken at Governor's Island, NYC in 2018 by photographer Alex Apt. The subjects are performers Mirelle Martins and Shamel Pitts. The moment captured symbolizes the soothing embrace of one's other half as a reflection of self.
Image Detail: Shamel Pitts (Fellow in Choreography ’19), BLACK VELVET, 2018, Photo Credit: Alex Apt Photography

Melissa C. Valentine

Melissa C. Valentine (Fellow in Nonfiction Literature ’20) is a writer whose work explores themes of race, trauma, and healing. Her debut memoir, The Names of All the Flowers (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2020), connects one tragic death to a collective grief for all Black people who die too young. A lyrical recounting of a lost life, the book is an intimate portrait of a family fractured by the school-to-prison pipeline and an enduring love letter to an adored older brother. The 2019 winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, The Names of All the Flowers was called “sharp and incredibly courageous” and “an act of profound love, profound service” by writer Carvell Wallace. Follow Valentine at @melissacvalentine on Instagram to keep up with her work.

– Amy Aronoff, Senior Communications Officer

Find out more about the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship Program, a $7,000 unrestricted cash grant awarded to individual artists living and working in the state of New York. Learn about NYFA’s other award and grant programs here. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for more news and events from NYFA. To receive more artist news updates, sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter, NYFA News.

Amy Aronoff
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