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African American Drawings

African American drawings have a rich legacy in American art. Historically, these artworks often grapple with the complexities surrounding identity as well as the struggles, challenges, and triumphs in the history of black people in America.

While there are exceptions, African Americans were largely underrepresented within the fine arts until well into the 20th century. This was often a result of racial biases and limited access to formal training. Jacob Lawrence was one of the first African American artists to receive widespread acclaim for his drawings and paintings.

Arguably now more than ever, African American artists are receiving more visibility and gaining greater recognition. Figures including Mark Bradford, Kara Walker, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon, and Kehinda Wiley have rapidly emerged as art world super stars.

Today, there are many celebrated and successful African American artists. Once limited to the implications of racial identity, African American drawings now assume a panoply of styles, media, and artistic strategies, ranging from the figurative to the purely abstract.

Quick Facts

  • At the time of his death, Jean-Michel Basquiat had more than 900 drawings and 25 sketchbooks stored in warehouses
  • In 2011, The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City honored Glenn Ligon with a retrospective exhibition featuring a large assortment of his drawings
  • Kara Walker’s drawings often include violent and disturbing images relating to African American enslavement in a manner that recalls bigoted caricatures from this period

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