BLK ART: The Audacious Legacy of Black Artists and Models in Western Art
by Zaria Ware
Publication Date: Jan 31, 2023
List Price: $34.99
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
Imprint: Harper Design
Parent Company: News Corporation
“This can’t be real.”
Surely, someone must have gotten carried away with photoshop and a couple of old Renaissance paintings. That was all I could think as I flipped through the pages of Zaria Ware’s BLK ART (Harper Design / January 31, 2022), an illuminating title tracking the contributions of Black artists. But Zaria, who was just as shocked to find these depictions in her research, assured me that not only were they real but they were many more than she had space to include. To think, in the rightful fight for inclusion in current media, Black people have been there all along!
Captivating and informative, BLK ART is an essential work that elevates a globally dismissed legacy to its proper place in the mainstream art canon. From the hushed corridors of royal palaces to the bustling streets of 1920s Paris—this is Black history like never seen before.
Elegant. Refined. Exclusionary. Interrupted. The foundations of the fine art world are shaking. Beyoncé and Jay-Z break the internet by blending modern Black culture with fine art in their iconic music video filmed in the Louvre. Kehinde Wiley powerfully subverts European masterworks. Calls resonate for diversity in museums and the resignations of leaders of the old guard. It’s clear that modern day museums can no longer exist without change—and without recognizing that Black people have been a part of the Western art world since its beginnings. Quietly held within museum and private collections around the world are hundreds of faces of Black men and women, many of their stories unknown. From paintings of majestic kings to a portrait of a young girl named Isabella in Amsterdam, these models lived diverse lives while helping shape the art world along the way. Then, after hundreds of years of Black faces cast as only the subject of the white gaze, a small group of trailblazing Black American painters and sculptors reached national and international fame, setting the stage for the flourishing of Black art in the 1920s and beyond.
BLK ART tracks this buried history, unearthing stunning masterpieces in all their forgotten yet beautiful hues. In the introduction of her book, Zaria writes about discovery of the history genre as a child and how she learned there was no place for her in it: “It never really occurred to me that my being black and loving history would be considered an oxymoron.” Well, thanks to her, not anymore.
If seeing is, in fact, believing, everyone needs to see this.