Black Women in Art Essay

This essay has a total of 1266 words and 6 pages.

Black Women in Art

Black Women in Art
Historically and currently African American women use art as a way to express themselves,
their emotions and as an act of resistance. In this paper, I will discuss the various ways
two very influential artists, Laurie Cooper and Lorna Simpson, use imagery to uncover and
forefront the various forms of oppression that affect their lives as African American
women. Since the late 1970s, African American art, as a form of self expression, explores
issues which concern African peoples worldwide. During this time period, African American
artists use symbols which represent the struggles, despair, hopes and dreams of a people
striving to debunk prominent stereotypes and dismantle the intersecting oppressions of
race, class and gender.

Despite the long history of African American art, many black artists in contemporary
society still have a difficult time getting their art viewed or accepted by the masses.
Society, in general, tends to look at African art as ethnic, trivial, simple, folk art,
perhaps even collectable, but not worthy of true in-depth exploration of fine art
accreditation. However, Laurie Cooper and Lorna Simpson disrupt these perceptions in their

Lorna Simpson, a photographer, was born in New York during the sixties. Still residing
there today, she remains active in the art world. Simpson brings much attention to a cause
near and dear to her, the "situation of black women in society." The ambiguity in her
photographs allows the viewer to evaluate the meaning of her work and to draw their own
conclusion with her spirit in mind. An excellent example of this is in her piece
Counting(1991). The Albright-Knox Art Gallery helps interpret the piece:

Lorna Simpson's work, Counting, contains three images: a fragment of a woman's body, a
small brick hut, and a group of braids. The figure is anonymous and wears a white shift,
Simpson's preferred costume for her models. She likes the simplicity; she believes that it
indicates what she terms "femaleness," without bringing up issues of fashion; and she also
likes the fact that there are many possible interpretations for such an outfit. The times
to the right of the figure might indicate work shifts, but the schedules are unrealistic
if considered closely. Other possibilities for what they might mean are open to viewer

The central image shows a smoke house in South Carolina that was also used as a slave hut.
This adds a reference to the previous status of African-American women in this country,
where slavery was first acknowledged about 310 years ago (as indicated by the number in
the box to the left). It can be inferred that perhaps the number of bricks listed is the
number of bricks used in the construction of the building.

Simpson first began putting hair in her work around 1990, and it can lead to many
different interpretations. The only clue she provides to viewers is an accounting of the
number of twists, braids, and locks. It has been suggested that the hair represents the
age of an old woman, presumably one who has seen and experienced much in her lifetime.

The way Simpson challenges the viewer to think, her willingness to be provocative,
confrontational and intelligent are a few things which enable her to stand out as a leader
of African American female artists.

Laurie Cooper is another outstanding black female artist. She challenges the shame and
embarrassment society has taught her to feel for being a woman of color by shedding that
ideology both figuratively and literally within her work. Laurie Cooper is at the front
line of Pennsylvania's art community raising society's awareness regarding issues of
racism and self liberation.

In Cooper's series, Facing Reality, she features two prints. One of a black woman with a
look of agony and shame on her face and a white mask crumbling off and conversely, in the
second print, it is a man, wearing a face of anger and contempt and is seen removing his
mask intentionally. These two prints illustrate a very interesting dichotomy. The man
removes his mask with power and intent, the woman is ashamed and afraid to have hers
falling off. This truly exemplifies the ongoing struggle of equality not simply between
white men and black women, but between black men and black women, which highlights the
need to address sexism in the African American community. The uncertainty the female shows
on her face in Facing Reality (the woman) is an excellent reflection of the compounding
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