For years, I subscribed to the axiom, “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.” And, for me, what I liked were pieces that told a story of who I was. Not who I was as an individual, but who the “collective I” was in the context of being a person of color.
Growing up, the “art” on my walls were a picture of Jesus, MLK, and John F. Kennedy. I lacked any art education or awareness. When I got to Grambling State University, I saw my first sculpture honoring an African American, Grambling’s founder Charles P. Adams.
When I got my first apartment, I saw a commercial offering a set of posters from the U.S. government from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era, that featured art by African-American, women, and Latino artists. I ordered them for just $10, and when they arrived, there were prints of Jacob Lawrence, Annie Lee, and Varnetta Honeywood. They opened a whole new world for me in terms of art and artists. Who were these people and where had they been all my life?
Later, I discovered antique markets where, if you put in some time and effort, you could find sheet music, postcards, and other printed memorabilia that spoke to the African-American experience. These items I quickly scooped up and framed. My most important find was a picture titled, “Me Warm Now,” an abolitionist piece produced in England and sold at the Great Exhibition in New York in 1853. I purchased the piece on layaway, and it still holds pride of place in my home today more than 35 years later.
I began to explore auction houses and remember the day I came across a poster from the 1940 Negro World’s Fair and Exhibition in Chicago in 1940.What an eye-opener. Around this time, I was introduced to the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), the longest-surviving African-American arts center in the country, founded during the WPA in 1930.
The pieces started to fall together. The Center’s Gallery walls are pocked by the nail holes of every exhibit that ever hung there. Works by WPA artists including Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, Gordon Parks, Eldzier Cortor, and countless other African-American artistic giants. I’d come full circle from those $10 posters and found my artistic home.
I began to meet artists and understand their motivations and how their love of African-American culture inspired them to create their work. I began to understand the significance of the mediums they used and the techniques they employed. It was from this knowledge that Pigment International™ was born. At Pigment, what we know for sure is that our art tells our stories. From the messages sewn into quilts to help guide runaways; to primitive folk art created by slaves; to works that tout our cultural significance and celebrate our sheroes and heroes. We, at Pigment, know that while African-American art may be trending, it has and never will be trendy.
A large part of the Pigment International™ dream was the creation of Black Fine Art Month. When we began to research and found that the recognition did not exist we knew it was time to correct the oversight. In the vein of Black History Month and Black Music Month, we wanted a distinct recognition of the Black Fine art cannon that carves out an allocated time and space for us to unite across the globe in celebration of Black visual art culture. Black Fine Art Month provides a spotlight and platform to say ‘thank you’ to our artists, collectors, galleries, fair organizers, appraisers, curators, art publishers, writers, auctioneers, cultural institutions, art teachers, administrators, volunteers, and visitors who show up to encourage artists. Thank you to the DuSable Museum of African American History, a Smithsonian affiliate, who shared our vision and partnered with us in 2019 for the inaugural celebration.
This year, we will be celebrating the work of Black women artists under the theme, “A Woman’s Work.” We have engaged nationally to present substantive discussions on the state of Black art virtually with our platform partner New Day Culture. And based on the articles about the disparities that exist for Black artists within the mainstream art world, this effort is perfectly timed. Learn more about our programming by visiting www.blackfineartmonth.com or register for one of six Salon Talks at https://bit.ly/BFAMOCT
2020 is a year unlike any other in our lifetime, and we have a front row seat to how artists are interpreting it. Black artists have earned and deserve this recognition. Let’s pull something positive from the wreckage that has been 2020 and adopt this celebration as one that is long overdue. Dr. Margaret Burroughs, artists, educator, institution builder and founder of the DuSable Museum, asked the question “what will your legacy be?” For us, Black Fine Art Month is that legacy.
Meet just a few of our supporters:
DuSable Museum of African American History – A Smithsonian Affiliate * Art.Black *Black Art in America * South Side Community Art Center, The Oldest African American Art Center in the Country * Artist Ted Ellis *400 Years of African American History Commission * Artist Frank Frazier, Dallas * Russell Goings, Chair Emeritus Studio Museum of Harlem * DJC Consulting *Art & Soul, Ft. Lauderdale * September Gray Fine Art Gallery, Atlanta * Ayzha Gallery, Milwaukee * NYCH Gallery, Chicago * NO Studios * Blanc Gallery, Chicago * Office of Civic Engagement, University of Chicago * Dr. Addie Dawson-Euba, Professor of Fine Arts Southern University, Retired * Idris B. Odenewu * Mayor Lori Lightfoot * Eda Wade, Artist, Muralist, Professor Southern University * Dr. Michael Butler, Griot Gallery, Miami * Tracie Hall * Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly * Contemporary Art Museum of Houston * Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago * Alderman Pat Dowell * Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson * Golden Galleries, Colorado * T. Ellis Fine Art * Artist Heather Polk * Muralist Max Sansing * Bill Michel, Executive Director, Reva and David Logan * Karen Hodo * Center for the Arts, University of Chicago * Artist RHB *Julianna Richardson, The Historymakers * Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle *Pigment international* Clinee Hedspeth, Curator * Dorian Nash, Smart Museum, University of Chicago * Thomas Lucas, Master Printer, Hummingbird Press * Halima Taha, Arts Author * DDC Consulting Group, Inc. *Chicago Gallery News * U.S. Congressman Danny Davis * Illinois Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins * Fabiola Jean-Louis, Artist * Soraya Sheppard, Color Me Africa * Art in Motion (AIM) Charter School * The Cliff Dwellers * Art Work Fund* Joyce Foundation * Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce * South East Chicago Commission * Rahmaan Statik * Joe Jones * Debra Hand * New Day Culture* Aurora WDC * William Beavers Gallery * Roux Artist Collective * Golden Galleries * Hearne Fine Art * Artist Charly Palmer * Artist Deborah Roberts * Leslie Guy Consulting * Confessions of a Gallerina * Lift Up the Arts * Pepper Miller * Dawoud Bey * Isabel Fischbein * DSY Fine Art * The William Everett Group* Janice Bond *Rosie Gordon-Wallace, DVCAI*
Devorah Crable and Phyliss North, Co-Founders