round21 highlights creatives at the top of their game who highlight the black experience through their art.
Former NFL Tight-End Martellus Bennett’s creative drive stems from his childhood. He fueled that creativity throughout his playing career, but only after the birth of his daughter in 2014, did Bennett establish The Imagination Agency. He recognized the lack of representation of people of color in children’s books and began creating characters that looked like his daughter. Along with sketches and paintings of his own, Bennett and the Imagination Agency have published books and developed apps/interactive games to tell stories for children. In 2019, he published ‘Dear Black Boy,’ a “letter of encouragement” aimed to inspire black boys to recognize their worth outside of sports. Martellus Bennett serves as a positive influence on black boys and girls and children of all races across the world.
Nina Chanel Abney
Nina Chanel Abney’s paintings are designed to evoke emotional responses from her audience. Her work oozes an unapologetic tone rooted in the experiences of black people in America and amplified by the Black Lives Movement in 2013. Over the years, Abney has created pieces that depict confrontations between African Americans and white law enforcement. Her skilled, detailed, and rhythmic paintings are not limited to the African American experience, but also how Americans as a whole intersect along the lines of race, religion, politics, sex, and celebrity. Every piece by Nina Chanel Abney reflects her commitment to storytelling and her innate ability to leave it up to her audience to interpret her messages.
Dubbed “the anti-Picasso,” Tschabalala Self challenges the objectification of black women and the black female body within pop culture in her art. Her use of paint and printmaking is widely celebrated in the art community and the strategic exaggeration of the physical characteristics of black women creates a necessary discourse centered around how black women are visually represented by mainstream media. One specific tactic in Self’s arsenal is reimagining images from music videos that have played a key role in playing out how the bodies of black women are represented. Tschabalala Self’s use of larger than life, broken-down bodies positively sheds light on the need for change in how black females are presented in art and in pop culture.
Calida Garcia-Rawles’s fusion of photo-realism and poetic abstraction to capture the experiences of black men and women is a welcomed contribution to the art world. Garcia-Rawles portrays the complications of the black experience by painting images of men and women submerged in water. According to Garcia-Rawles’s website, water serves as a “spiritually healing element for all people” and the distinct features of the water in relation to the motion of the bodies in the water shed light on the targeted violence of black people and cultural fears surrounding them. Her work also celebrates black life and the beauty of black culture that is a testament to the strength of black individuals.
Jonathan Lyndon Chase
Philadelphia visual artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s portrayal of Black, Queer, and Non-Binary bodies within his work is a breath of a fresh air in the art world. Drawing inspiration from their life story, Chase’s emphasizes the history of the relationship between Black, Queer, and Non-Binary people with the rest of the world. This is what makes the art so meaningful in our opinion. Providing visibility for groups that are rarely represented in the mainstream media is greatly welcomed. Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s ability to tap into human emotions of self-reflection, love, and beauty is absolutely necessary today.