This Week in Black Art and Culture

This week in Black art and culture, history was made in the United States. We swore in our first female, African American, and Asian American vice president. A young woman of great intellect addressed the American population with a riveting poem, and is the youngest poet to speak at a presidential inauguration. We marveled at the fashion worn at our recent inauguration. Antuan Sargent, author of The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, was named director at the Gagosian. It was announced that David Driskell’s first posthumous survey will go up in Atlanta in February, and that one of his most famous exhibitions, Two Centuries of Black American Art has inspired a new HBO documentary, HBO’s Black Art: In the Absence of Light.

Amanda Gorman Wows at the Inauguration

The recent inauguration will be remembered for making history in both positive and negative ways. A once close-knit event was now mandated by six-foot social distancing, with attendance scaled down significantly for safety precautions.

After musical performances by J.Lo, Garth Brooks and Lady Gaga, Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet laureate in U.S. history, stepped to the podium, greeting our newly sworn-in officials and their spouses, and coasted into her verse. Her words were met with immediate critical acclaim. They solidified what was already known. At the beginning of a new chapter in American history, Gorman perfectly interpreted the theme of the inauguration, “Our Determined Democracy: Forging a More Perfect Union.” 

Fourteen days after a raid on the U.S. Capitol involving white nationalists, a young Black woman remarks, “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed / A nation that isn’t broken / But simply unfinished,” her words connecting with others coast to coast. Harvard grad Gorman finds inspiration in the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda, something she’s been using to motivate herself since the beginning of her undergrad studies. 

She wrote, “For while we have our eyes on the future/ history has its eyes on us,” an allusion to History Has Its Eyes on You, a song in Hamilton sung by George Washington. Having had a speech impediment for several years, something she has in common with President Biden, she practiced her R’s rapping the song, Aaron Burr, Sir from the musical. Her inaugural poem matched the story of Hamilton verbatim about leaving the country better than you found it.

Contour on the Steps of the Capitol

Three Black designers had the spotlight when reviewing this year’s inauguration. During a COVID-19 memorial at the National Mall the night before the inauguration, Kamala Harris wore a warm camel coat, sporting an American flag pin on the lapel. The coat was designed by Haitian American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. His label, Pyer Moss, became a household name during Fashion Week 2019. Known not only for his ingenious runway shows, but his generosity, he turned his studio based out of New York into a donation center, while also giving grants to women-owned and BIPOC businesses suffering in the pandemic. 

The following day, Harris sported a captivating coat and dress that was purpler-than-purple while being sworn in, designed by Christopher John Rogers. A SCAD (Savannah Collage of Art and Design) alum, born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his choice of color palette spurred from his childhood, growing up in a Southern Baptist church. Monochromatic ensembles became the dress code of the swearing in, as exhibited by Dr. Biden, Biden’s grandchildren, and Former First Lady Michelle Obama. As the night of the inauguration closed with Katy Perry singing her hit song, Fireworks for the nation and beyond, Harris stood with her partner watching the celebrations from beyond in a sequined, sleek cocktail dress with a stem-to-stem tuxedo overcoat—all thanks to Sergio Hudson, a South Carolina native, who’s styled Issa Rae, Beyoncé and Tracee Ellis Ross, along with Michelle Obama’s earlier inauguration look (the snatched wine-colored ensemble). Hudson saw it wise to end the night in glamour, but still kept the new VP’s signature style: methodic and strong. 

Above: Photography by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Antwaun Sargent, New Sheriff in Town

Gagosian, one of the largest galleries in the world with more than a dozen locations, has named Antwaun Sargent the director and curator, whose debut show at the gallery will focus on “notions on Black space.” The 32-year-old writer with more than a decade’s work for some of the most distinguished publications including the New Yorker and The New York Times, has progressed to where he is now: a position of major influence in the art world. 

Sargent has many goals, but there’s one word that is precisely indicative of all of them: representation. He will be based in New York City as one of some 30 directors working across the galleries. Sargent has been writing about and curating exhibitions dedicated to Black artists for about a decade. His 2019 book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, which looks at growing Black representation in fashion photography, was acclaimed. Along with this critically commended book, he also edited the book, Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists.

David Driskell Doubly Honored Posthumously

This past April, we lost a legend and pioneer in the art community, David Driskell. For seven decades, he led the way for many artists to honor their African American heritage and is known both nationally and internationally for this feat. Driskell forever will be at the forefront of the conversation pertaining to Black art.  On February 6, 2021 some 60 of his works will go on view in his first posthumous survey, at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. It will be a compilation of both his work on canvas and on paper. 

This won’t be Driskell’s only debut in February. In HBO’s film, Black Art: In the Absence of Light. a central subject is Two Centuries of Black American Art, an exhibition curated by the late David Driskell. It is produced by Sam Pollard and will introduce some of the world’s leading Black artists to the general population. 

Sumaiyah E. Wade

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