Kerry James Marshall, African American Art New Frontiers

The work of Kerry James Marshall is centered on African American life, culture and history. His body of work explores new frontiers in racial politics, socio-economical issues and the artists’ own feelings & views about social responsibility. Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and later relocated to South Central, Los Angeles near the Black Panthers headquarters.

Kerry James Marshall African American Art
School of Beauty, School of Culture. 2012

Marshall grew-up in a country in which there were not many black artists to reference and “black studies” were in their early stages. Through his work, the artist has committed himself to compensating for the absence and invisibility of black culture. The artist attempts to reconcile African American art and culture with images of western ideals in his paintings by highlighting black identity within their historical context and the current socio political situation.

Video courtesy of Museo Reina Sofia, Painting and Other Stuff, 2014

For Marshall there is an evident gap in the [Western] art history archive. We can define his whole body of work as a counter-archive, reading between the lines of mainstream culture during the past decades to our recent date.

“I’m acutely aware of and obsessively invested in how the narrative of art history is structured, and the burden that history imposes on artists ambitious enough to dream of being part of it. It’s only in the mid-twentieth century that you start seeing black people making artworks that were thought important enough to talk about in relationship to that history. So the challenge is to gain an uncontestable place in the pantheon of art history without surrendering the desire to make pictures with black figures.” – from “Kerry James Marshall: Look See”, 2014 published by David Zwirner Books.

Kerry James Marshall African American Art
De Style, 1993

Today, this idea of historical authorship still exists in a subtle way. As millennial and avid social media, reality tv consumers, are we somehow responsible for those new created celebrities with multi-million dollar contracts or are we just mere followers; spectators of this make-believe machine, hooked-up to a magic formula tapping through our phones? Think about it.

words by VAGA editors. Images courtesy of Birmingham Museum of Art and Jack Shainman Gallery.

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