See Her, Support Her: Five Modern Black Female Artists Who Are Redefining the Art World
Much-needed awareness about the importance of celebrating and honoring the Black community is spreading worldwide, and the art industry, in particular, is a sector to watch. Many of the most acclaimed artists that deserve praise—now and always—are Black female makers. Here, we spotlight the journeys and work of five modern artists. While each creates exhibit-worthy pieces, you'll see that these women work in a variety of mediums, such as illustrating, painting, fiber, and ceramic art. Not only are their stunning pieces intricately pieced together, but the story behind each artist and their life's work makes for all the more reason to show your support and add one of their stunning pieces in your own space.
Bisa Butler, pictured above, is a trailblazing fiber artist whose work embodying the Black community is featured everywhere from the Smithsonian Museum of American History to the Art Institute of Chicago, but her reason for getting into the art form started at home. "I come from a family of people who sewed; my grandmother, mother, and all six of her sisters knew how to sew," she says. Her family's Ghanaian heritage and international travels spanning from Morocco to New Jersey allowed them to see the world, as well as fashion magazines and designers along the way. Inspired from her elders' global experiences and ties to needlework, Bisa chose to study fashion and sewing in college. She eventually chose quilting as her go-to art medium after creating the piece that changed her life: A quilted portrait of her grandparents. Today, Bisa continues her family legacy of sewing and connects to her roots by creating quilts, which she makes mainly of African fabrics that resemble those of Kente cloth and wax-printed fabric well-known in Ghana.
When it comes to making an individual piece, Bisa begins by selecting a vintage photograph, creating a sketch, and then choosing her desired African fabric to embody her subject's lineage and history. While the timeframe needed to create each piece varies, it generally takes an average of 150 hours to simply cut and arrange the fabric for a piece and an additional three days to quilt. But when all is said and done, her finished product is a representation, celebration, and affirmation of Black life. "I want to show the world who we really are; we are people of grace, of dignity, of pride, of love," she says. "We are beautiful, and we are human beings who not only deserve to live; we deserve honor. If people walk away with one thing when seeing my images, I want them to see a reflection of humanity and realize that this was always there—if you take the time to look."
Visual art has been a part of Glenyse Thompson's life since studying fine arts in college, but it wasn't until about five years ago that she finally found her way back to her calling. "I was feeling kind of stifled in my corporate career. While on vacation, I picked up art supplies and started drawing and playing with paints. I began to feel rejuvenated. After I returned, I blocked out time early every morning to create something new," she notes. "I continued creating new artwork and I realized my creativity was more than just a release; it had morphed into a new way to express myself."
Now fully-fledged in her work with pieces featured in acclaimed exhibitions and the Black Artists + Designers Guild, abstraction serves as her favored form of visual art. She uses waterproof inks, as well as watercolor and acrylic paint as her main materials, and hand draws thousands of lines on each piece to represent conversations—which relates to everyday life that she likes to represent in her art. "Life is colorful and dark at times, but wondrous, nonetheless. Abstractly, my work certainly conveys everyday life," Glenyse says. "Ultimately, my mission is to encourage engagement and deeper discussions with people that are different from you... which is everyone on the planet!"
Ronni Nicole Robinson
Ronni Nicole Robinson describes her environment growing up as a concrete jungle, but that landscape is actually where her love for flower preservation took root. "[Dandelions] grew up through the cracks in the sidewalk, and each one was like a little ray of sunshine. My grandmother would walk me to church, and I would pluck the dandelions along our route and press them into my Bible," she says. "I didn't know this was a form or preservation at the time, I just wanted to collect as many as I could." About five years ago, Ronni made the step to make her own works after she and her husband went to an art exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Once she saw a wall-sized bronze relief with a tiny flower in the corner, it clicked in her mind that creating her own flower preservation pieces was destined in her future.
Today, Ronni creates "Flower-Inspired Fossils," which is her signature form of botanical art using hand-pressed clay, a bloom from her land, and white plaster to create one-of-a-kind reliefs. While she draws inspiration organically through details like the shape of the leaves, the curve of the stems, and the way the flower blooms, her art that graces global magazine platforms is meant to be subtle and nuanced. "It's meant to hang in the background of your everyday life without consuming the room it's in," she explains. "It's meant to blend into your environment, much like nature itself. It's only when you give yourself permission to slow down that you would even notice it being there."
In essence, this relates to Ronni's goal as an artist: "[I want] to encourage people to daydream and connect with the natural world," she adds. "As a child, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about meadows, laying in the grass, and just being with nature. It was an escape from the concrete jungle of urban living. When I create my scenic plaster reliefs, they are still moments I always dreamed about."
While Melarie Odelusi has always been involved with art, her true calling came in the forms of illustration and calligraphy. "I would sketch [fashion] collections I would see on the runway and create my own. I still have the sketchbook, it's crazy," she says. "I eventually leaned into brush lettering and now I marry the two [illustration and calligraphy] to create my work."
The Dallas-based artist lets her creativity take flight as she brainstorms to create custom pieces for distinguished brands and clients. She begins by asking questions when working with clients to get the vision just right, then continues by creating a mood board and a color palette, and finally curating a digital sketch for the finished product. While Melarie keeps busy creating for clients, her work is a form of self-therapy, too—an outlet where anything from music to a conversation can spark enough creativity for a piece. What she hopes to share as a creative? "My mission as an artist is to celebrate women, especially Black women, our many layers, our femininity and strength while encouraging empowerment and representation through illustration and modern lettering," Melarie says. "When women see my work, I want for them to feel seen. That is why I create."
If you come across Audrianna Woods' work featured prominently around social media and on her own ever-growing platform, you will find powerful paintings that speak, first and foremost, to who she is as an individual. "I never paint for anyone else, I only paint things that touch my heart, express myself and my vibe, and things that will bring some love and light into this world," she shares. "I see the inspiration and the reactions my artwork gets, and I'm grateful people can relate to my artwork and my visions which ultimately represent who I am."
The painter got her start naturally through her mother's ties to art, but began in the industry just about four years ago. Ever since, she has breathed life into each piece by starting with a calm and positive mindset. From there, she rounds up acrylic paints, a canvas, water, a towel, about three days of work, and a clear mind to bring each of her visions to life. In all, she aims to create work that will represent African American culture to the highest esteem. "As a Black woman, I want to show the world how beautiful it is to be Black," Audrianna says. "It's my mission to bring into the light how much color, expression, history, and power that's embedded in my culture."