The Movement of Black Visual Art: "She's Gotta Have It"

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The creative industry game is the midst of a major upheaval happening particularly in the world of visual art. The resurgence of visual art intermingled within our daily dose of entertainment is seemingly right on trend. Whether in a new TV series, movie, or live festival concert Black visual art is transitioning its position amongst mainstream media to the front lines of exposure to the masses. This shape-shifting journey of Black visual art is so much more than a trend of the present day cool. Each project is simultaneously dissecting race relations by exposing injustices within the industry. Demanding old guard iconic filmmakers to create new narratives with a renewed sense of creative innovation for Black artists are just some of the thick threads of progress created by the fair inclusiveness of highlighting and celebrating Black art in all spaces.  

Spike Lee is one of the most uniquely talented and iconic filmmakers who chooses to continue to inject himself into world’s current culturally charged moment in Black visual art as an opportunity to promote artists that are still underrepresented in mainstream media and the art world at large. Bold decision like those of Lee realign the artistic conversation about Black visual art and how to produce a new world of creativity with a plethora of alternatives inclusive of newcomers to create their artwork both inside and outside the traditional formats. While major institutions are indeed making public efforts to showcase Black art, there are still cracks in the elite picturesque art atmosphere that falls tone deaf to when those same artists highlighted within that institution speaks out against injustice are ignored and iced out. When veteran filmmakers like Spike Lee and the late John Singleton incorporate the work of Black artists within their entertainment it reverberates throughout the industry both legitimizing and stimulating a new avenue for Black artists to showcase their work.

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Spike Lee has birthed his signature cinematic style through the history of curating visual and performing art throughout his film career. Both Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, veteran art collectors, have always supported and promoted young talents throughout the entertainment industry as part of there activism within the industry.

By presenting critically acclaimed forces within the Black contemporary art community, the Lees have emphasized the role that artists have within society. Both seasons of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” Netflix series introduces us to a montage of real life Black artists at various levels in their career all actively pursuing a viable lifestyle just like protagonist Nola Darling.

We’re sounding the on the virtual loudspeaker on these real life visionary artists and their beautiful artwork to add to your personal art collection!

The Artists Behind the Art: "She's Gotta Have It"

Part 1

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Carrie Mae Weems

Contemporary Artist. Art Photographer. Videographer. Activist.

“It's fair to say that black folks operate under a cloud of invisibility - this too is part of the work, is indeed central to [my photographs]... This invisibility - this erasure out of the complex history of our life and time - is the greatest source of my longing.”

-Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems is among the most radically innovative contemporary American artists working today. In a career spanning nearly five decades across the mediums of photography, video, installations and public art campaigns — Weems has unapologetically unveiled the historical biases that guide our own actions and shape our perceptions of others. The continuous motifs in all of her works, from her famous intimate family photographs to series involving archival images of enslaved Africans is what unites her subjects and viewers in a common humanity.

Born on April 20, 1952 in Portland, OR, Weems studied dance with the Postmodern dancer Anna Halprin, eventually receiving her MFA from the University of California San Diego. In 2014, Weems was the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York titled “Three Decades of Photography and Video,” which notably featured her early Kitchen Table Series (1990), a groundbreaking investigation of African American stereotypes becoming the first African-American woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim.

We first encounter Weems in a scene from She’s Gotta Have It, Series in season 1 with her iconic “Kitchen Table” series. For season 2 Weems makes a stunning return appearing as herself on screen, as an established affluent artist, mentor, and educator masterfully re-fueling Nola Darling after a less then stellar portfolio presentation at the Nation Time artists’ retreat that left her feeling doubtful about her work and comparing herself to others. Its Weems authentic charm and grace in the scene with Nola that reawakens her purpose as an evolving artist after feeling defeated that is so powerful and memorable for its audience.

Weems’ work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, among others. The artist lives and works between Syracuse and Brooklyn, NY.

Carrie Mae Weems Artwork

“An artist’s “obligation” is to “make what you want to see in the world.”


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Doreen Garner

Sculptor. Performing Artist. Tattoo Artist.

“Take the power back, twist it, and sharpen it. Probe all cavities of the privileged viewer experience. With viscera and bling, a material mush is formulated of beads, Swarovski crystals, silicone, rubber, teeth, condoms, teddy bear stuffing, Vaseline, etc., held together by glass walls or latex membranes.”

-Doreen Garner

Doreen Garner is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and performance artist born in Philadelphia, PA. In her visceral work as a sculptor, Garner interrogates the medical industry’s exploitation of black bodies. Garner’s work is magnificently grotesque and literally carves into the beliefs of sexuality, gender, and race. Her sculptures capture the essence of the body in its most natural state: skin, blood, hair, MUSH stripping the external form of the body that we comfortable knowing. Garner brilliantly uses the body as both the host and catalyst to an infinite amount of perfectly choreographed systems, invoking a mysteriously spiritual awakening. It is Doreen’s talent to capture the essence of the body with selective material genius manifesting each sculpture as a votive to this “thing” we each call home.

Her 2017 show “Purge,” at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, exposed the damage done by the 19th-century doctor J. Marion Sims. Garner’s interests stem from her curiosity of examining the interplay between “pain and power,”. The “Purge” compels its audience as a collective society to face the reality of racism that J. Marion Sims’s legacy as the “Father of Modern Gynecology” was built upon.

I identify, extract, and exploit the tissues that bind the sexual and the grotesque, specifically regarding the black female body. Treated as spectacle and disposable specimen, these women and their stories—Henrietta Lacks, Saartjie Baartman, the victims of Dr. J. Marion Sims—are a driving force. Identifying the voyeur as the subject, an oppositional gaze is directed towards fetish, objectification, and racism.

-Doreen Garner

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Doreen’s artwork proves to be such an innovative exception because her bold, bodily sculptures confronts the historical racial trauma of Black women. Garner has held residencies and fellowships at Recess Art, the International Studio and Curatorial Program, Socrates Sculpture Park, Pioneer Works, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She holds a BFA in Glass from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and an MFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a recipient of the Toby Devan Lewis Award, the Van Lier Fellowship Award, and a Franklin Furnace Grant. Currently, Garner is practicing as a sculptor and inscriber of flesh. She is also a licensed tattoo artist, a practice that extends her acknowledgment of the simultaneous resilience and silencing of African Americans throughout history.

Doreen Garner’s Artwork

“It’s not about creating a gruesome work. It’s about creating subtle nuance where you don’t completely know how to feel. And maybe that’s what stays with you.”


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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Illustrator. Muralist. Painter.

“Directly challenging the xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric now dominating American discourse, subjects of this work assert that they are not going anywhere.”

-Tatyana Fazlalizade

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is a Black/Iranian visual artist from Oklahoma City, OK. With a degree from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, she is a classically trained artist with a background in illustration whose artwork extents in the form of vivid rendered oil paintings, large murals, and black and white wheatpastes that are unmistakably her own. Fazlalizadeh’s audacious spirit and passion for activism has allowed her artwork to expand from the gallery to the streets to tackling issues of violence in public spaces and gender based street harassment to violence against black people.

Tatyana first caught the attention of film director Spike Lee with her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” series via Instagram. In 2014, Lee asked Tatyana to be the Art Consultant for the TV adaptation of his first movie She’s Gotta Have It. Fazlalizadeh’s work was so compelling that her original street art series “Stop Telling Women to Smile”, is echoed in the fictionalized street campaign series “My Name is Not”. Fazlalizadeh is the creator of all of protagonist Nola Darling’s work seen throughout the series.

Her street art series, Stop Telling Women to Smile, can be found on walls across the globe, addressing gender based street harassment through illustration portraiture and storytelling. Tatyana has been profiled by the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, the New Yorker, and listed as one of Brooklyn’s most influential people by Brooklyn Magazine. She is 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient. She has lectured at the Brooklyn Museum, New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, several universities including Stanford, Brown, USC, and Pratt Institute. Tatyana’s work has been featured on TV networks BET and Oxygen, and Spike Lee’s feature film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Tatyana's work can currently be seen on Spike Lee's Netflix series, She's Gotta Have It, for which she is also the show's Art Consultant. She is also the current inaugural Public Artist in Residence for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. A year long residency that will present the experiences of racism and sexism from New Yorkers through public art. Tatyana is currently working on her first book, Stop Telling Women to Smile, with Seal Press and she currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

“I think it’s important to address those issues because they’re incredibly significant and important to not just my life because I’m a black woman,” Fazlalizadeh said, “but they’re important to our country and our world and our society in general. I don’t think that those issues that face black and brown people or queer people or women are issues that are isolated and only affect them. They affect everyone.”

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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Artwork

“I wanted to talk about street harassment, so it made the most sense for me to do the work in the street.”


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Titus Kaphar

Painter. Sculptor.

“I'm not saying that things now aren't better for black people. Thank God they're definitely better, but some things are still the same. "Better" is not good enough - it's not. Especially when "better" still means my life is at risk.”

-Titus Kaphar

Titus Kaphar is an artist whose paintings, sculptures, and installations examine the history of representation by transforming its styles and mediums with formal innovations to emphasize the physicality and dimensionality of the canvas and materials themselves. Kaphar is known for appropriating images from American and European art subverting them, cutting them into his canvases to pull back the velvet curtain of history. Through cutting, bending, sculpting, and remixing historic paintings and sculptures, Kaphar often shifts the focus of the narratives to create new works that exist between fiction and quotation. He wields materials like tar, wire, gold leaf and nails to unearth the past’s inconvenient truths, and to shine a restorative light on those residing in the shadows. Open areas become active absences; walls enter into the portraits; stretcher bars are exposed; and structures that are typically invisible underneath, behind, or inside the canvas are laid bare to reveal the interiors of the work. In so doing, Kaphar creates art that nods to history's untold narratives and reveal its unspoken truths of social justice and change in America today that leaving his audience to investigate the power of a rewritten history.

Titus Kaphar was born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan and lives and works in New Haven, CT. Kaphar received an MFA from the Yale School of Art and is a distinguished recipient of numerous prizes and awards including a 2014 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, a 2015 Creative Capital grant, a 2016 Robert R. Rauschenberg Artist as Activist grant, a 2018 Art for Justice Fund grant and the 2018 Rappaport Prize. In late 2014, Kaphar created a painting in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown that was featured in TIME magazine. He gave a TED talk at the annual conference in Vancouver 2017, where he completed a whitewash painting, Shifting the Gaze, onstage. Kaphar’s work has been included in solo exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA PS1 and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, among others. His work is included in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AK; the 21C Museum Collection; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; and the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Miami, FL, amongst others.

Future exhibitions include Suffering from Realness at MASSMoCA, New Bedford, MA opening April 13, 2019-2020.



Titus Kaphar’s Artwork

I want to make paintings…I want to make sculptures that are honest, that wrestle with the struggles of our past but speak to the diversity and the advances of our present.”





Stay tuned for the rest of the artists highlighted season 2 of Spike Lee’s “She Gotta Have It” series next week !