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Five Contemporary Black Abstract Artists You Should Know

 written by Kendra Walker, Cultured Mag, March 16, 2021

Historically, the gatekeepers in the art community were not interested in the work of Black artists, with abstract painters such as Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam and David Driskell only receiving belated recognition. The particular difficulty of abstraction was that it did not easily conform to an image of Blackness; it didn’t announce itself as Black art. Art historian Darby English argues that by inserting “abstraction into Black representational space,” Black artists are confronting America’s monolithic definition of Black art and identity. What makes art “Black” and how do viewers perceive or value work that is unidentifiable by race? Against this backdrop, some of the most compelling abstract painting today is coming from Black artists.

Tariku Shiferaw was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and currently lives and works in New York City. Utilizing a variety of materials, such as mylar and vinyl, he creates a layered geometric abstraction. Shiferaw is best known for the thick horizontal lines in his work and his use of electric blue and a vigorous black. His work explores hierarchical systems and societal structures as well as perception of space. Shiferaw integrates hip hop culture by titling his works after songs by the likes of Tupac, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Cardi B. By imposing Blackness on the viewer, he is, in his own words to CFHILL, “inserting himself and the culture in the canon of western art history.


Tariku Shiferaw, 2021.

Photograph by Christopher Garcia Valle

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