African American Prints

African American artists have a rich history of printmaking, particularly as a mid-20th century movement to document social conditions and injustices. African American printmakers also document the stories and careers of influential and inspirational Black cultural figures and athletes.

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) supported the careers of many African American printmakers during the Depression. One example of this support is the founding of the Harlem Community Arts Center in New York City. The Center provided a space to begin to tell the African American narrative. For the first time, the Northward migration and the harsh realities of life for many could be expressed through prints.

Many African American artists drew aesthetic influence from African art, but also found a kinship with Mexican muralists, social realists and American regionalists, incorporating these influences into their printmaking practice.


Quick Facts

  • Elizabeth Catlett was one of the first artists to document the realities of life for African American women through printmaking, representing the narrative history rather than a fictionalized trope
  • Robert Blackburn founded the Print Making Workshop with one lithographic press in 1947 as a collaborative space to encourage young artists towards the medium. One press grew to six, and etching equipment was added several years later
  • Artist Romare Bearden developed a unique style by using collage to create a composition, and then by creating lithographs that captured the his signature color and use of texture

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