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Black Women in Art

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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 art.

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 interpretation.

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

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