Category: Art

The Last Time

There are so many days this year that are the anniversaries of the last time we did something in 2020.

These pictures were taken on March 6, 2020, at the Oakland Museum of California on my last visit to a museum. The Bay Area shelter in place order took effect eleven days later.

Ruth Asawa. Untitled, 1959.

Philip Lindsay Mason. Family Scape.

Dorothea Lange. Gas station. Kern County, California. 1938.

Carmen Lomas Garza. Felino’s Breakdancers, 1988.

Richard Diebenkorn. Figure on a Porch, 1959.

We Wear the Mask

By Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Fundamental Truths

Source: Alisha Wormsley, The Last Billboard

Artist Alisha Wormsley’s simple statement about black people existing in the future is apparently too much for some Pittsburgh residents to accept.

The billboard, the latest in a series from The Last Billboard project, was removed from the building where it was located at the end of March. The building’s property manager Eve Picker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a statement, “we were contacted by a number of people in the local community who said that they found the message offensive and divisive.” This was the first billboard removed in the project’s eight year history.

Black people will exist in the future, but what where will they live? From Pittsburgh to Portland and Austin to Oakland, historically black neighborhoods have now become places where black people are no longer welcome.

in the inner city by Lucille Clifton

in the inner city


like we call it


we think a lot about uptown

and the silent nights

and the houses straight as

dead men

and the pastel lights

and we hang on to our no place

happy to be alive

and in the inner city


like we call it


Artists in Their Studios: Selma Hortense Burke to Mickalene Thomas 

Selma Hortense Burke. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum

The portrait of the artist in the studio is a meaningful image. In The New Yorker, Lilly Lampe articulates its power. “The studios of famous artists are fascinating for the double insight they provide us: on the one hand, a view of the creative process; on the other, a view of the creative life.” The artist in the studio also provides a view of what is possible.

Lampe’s idea that the artist in studio tells us something about the creative process and the creative life inspired me to find pictures of black women artists ensconced in their creative workplaces. In some of the photographs the artists are in the midst of creation; in others they are posed next to or in front of a completed piece. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment in the photos. Seeing those artists in the realms of their creation is a reminder of the audacious feat of black American women making art and claiming the professional title of ‘artist’.

In an interview with Charles H. Rowell of Callaloo, Lois Mailou Jones spoke about the struggles of being a black woman artist in the mid-20th century. “I owed very much to my white friend Céline who would take my paintings to the juries. They never knew that the artist was black. That was very much in my favor. It’s been a very unusual career. I would also send or ship my work to the Philadelphia Academy or to the National Academy of Design. Invariably, the works would be hung, and they would never know that the artist was black. I remember going to the Philadelphia Academy to see one of my paintings which had been accepted. While I stood there looking at it, the guard saw me looking at the painting and said, “I guess you like art, don’t you?” I said to myself that he doesn’t know that the painting is mine hanging there. [Much laughter.] And so that’s how it was way back in those early days; I was exhibiting at all of the big museums, but they never knew that I was black because I either shipped my works or had a white person deliver them. Now you see how difficult it was.”

Lois Mailou Jones. Source:

Lois Mailou Jones was not alone in being erased from her own work. Sister Rosetta, the mother of Rock and Roll is little known beyond music aficionados and students of African-American history. It is important for black women artists to be seen and acknowledged. Once they are seen, their creative output can be recognized as vital, skillful, and beautiful without qualification. The portrait of the black woman artist in her studio is a statement of being in a world comfortable erasing her from the historical record.

Augusta Savage. Source: Florida Department of State

Elizabeth Catlett

Faith Rinngold. Source: Melanie Burford

Betye Saar. Source: Issue Magazine

Kara Walker. Source: MIT

Mickalene Thomas. Source: Vice

Legendary Encounter 

This photograph is fascinating. Does it document Frida and Josephine’s first meeting? What did they talk about? There is speculation of an affair between them, but neither claimed the other as a lover. 

Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker were uniquely 20th century creations. They were artists and libertines, masters at captivating public interest and subverting cultural norms.

Massive historical events shaped them: the Mexican Revolution for Kahlo and the Great Migration and Paris between the world wars for Baker. 

Frida and Josephine live on as icons for outrageous women compelled to be themselves.  

#FridaKahlo #JosephineBaker