Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Black History Month: discovering Kerry James Marshall

By Maurizio Kayonjo Oct 11, 2023
Photo by Nigel R Barklie/Shutterstock (600094a) Kerry James Marshall with his painting 'Souvenir II' Kerry James Marshall exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, Britain - 25 Jul 2006

Kerry James Marshall’s art celebrates Black culture, history, and identity, challenging the historic underrepresentation of black people in both art and society. 

Through his artwork, Marshall explores complex themes related to African American life, including racial inequality, social injustice and the African American experience.  

His work serves as a middle point for discussions on these critical issues. 

The use of deep, rich black paint in his portraits challenges conventional beauty standards in art. This brave act confronts Eurocentric ideals and highlights the beauty of Black skin and culture. 
His work leaves a permanent legacy in contemporary art, representing important cultural pieces that contribute to a wider understanding of Black history and contemporary life. 
 
In a Frame Interview, Kerry James Marshall expressed a significant challenge for Black artists in their search for identity: “The challenge for Black artists in general is trying to find a place for themselves in an aesthetic regime or aesthetic system, and a history that did not include them as participants in the formulation of its authorizing idea.” 
 
Born on October 17, 1955, in Birmingham, Alabama, Marshall grew up in the Watts neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. He later studied at the Otis College of Art and Design.  

Marshall’s upbringing in a socially charged environment, including vicinity to the Black Panthers’ headquarters, created in him a strong sense of social responsibility. 
 
Marshall has exhibited his work with the David Zwirner Gallery in New York and his art is held in the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others. 

In 2016, his art was the focus of a significant retrospective titled Mastry, which received widespread critical acclaim and travelled to notable venues like MCA Chicago, MOCA and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

In 2018, Marshall’s artwork titled Past Times (1997) was sold for $21.1million at auction, marking the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by a living African American artist. 

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