Alayo Akinkugbe is highlighting the overlooked Black artists, sitters, curators, and thinkers from art history to the present day
Go into any art history lecture and you’ll quickly realise that the cannon and courses taught today still often celebrate the same white (male) artists. The lack of representation of Black artists in particular is something that Alayo Akinkugbe noticed on her own art history course at the University of Cambridge and she decided to do something about it!
This is where @ablackhistoryofart was born, an Instagram account spotlighting the overlooked Black artists, sitters, curators, and thinkers from art history to the present day. I spoke with Alayo about starting this account, the issues embedded within art history, and what’s next for @ablackhistoryofart!
It’s so amazing to see your account grow, showing the need to highlight the artists so often overlooked from Art History. What made you want to start your account @ablackhistoryofart?
I started the account out of my own frustration at the lack of black representation in my University course, and I suspect in the majority of Art History courses in Western universities. I did it so that I could self-educate and share my findings with others – I am so pleased that it has had such a positive response, I think that this shows the urgent need for diversification of university and school art and art history curriculums.
“I am so pleased that [@ablackhistoryofart] has had such a positive response, I think that this shows the urgent need for diversification of university and school art and art history curriculums.“ – Alayo Akinkugbe
You also study art history at university. Do you find that your course syllabus includes or overlooks many Black artists?
Definitely – last year [my first year], we did not study a single black artist. It was not until my 5th term at university, about halfway through my degree, that I was introduced to a black artist as part of my learning. This was because I had chosen the contemporary art course that features a wide and diverse range of 20th and 21st century artists, mainly from the UK and the US. This course also inspired me to start the account in February because I couldn’t believe that it had taken so long for me to come across the high-achieving black artists we were studying, the likes of Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon, and David Hammons, for instance, who in my opinion, are revolutionary and should definitely not be overlooked in art education.
One of the amazing things about Instagram is it makes discovering new artists and creatives more accessible. Are there any artists from history which you particularly love that we should check out?
There are so many, but I will suggest these three:
Belkis Ayón was a Cuban printmaker whose works are very dark and disturbing, she was inspired by the complex mythology of Abakuá – look it up!
Emma Amos, who sadly passed away last month. She was a very talented American painter whose career spanned decades – her art definitely deserves more attention.
I also love Malick Sidibé who was a Malian independence-era photographer, his black and white photographs are electrifying, capturing the energy of liberation from French rule. He won a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2007 – he too deserves attention in art education!
“I couldn’t believe that it had taken so long for me to come across the high-achieving black artists we were studying... who in my opinion, are revolutionary and should definitely not be overlooked in art education.“ – Alayo Akinkugbe
Your account also looks from history to the present day. Are there any creatives working today that are on your radar at the moment?
So many… I am particularly interested in Nigerian artists (my own nationality so I am biased…) like Victor Ehikamenor and Peju Alatise whose works are endlessly inspiring.
I love Kenneth Ize’s designs – he is a phenomenal young Nigerian fashion designer whose signature is his use of aso oke fabric. He had his first Paris Fashion Week show in February – it’s great to see the Western fashion and art worlds paying attention to what’s happening in sub-Saharan Africa.
I’ve seen you’ve been doing some big moves with the account already, from takeovers to podcasts. Is there anything coming up which we should keep an eye out for?
Yes! I am doing another takeover of an account you may know, and another podcast interview… these are secrets! Keep an eye out on my instagram to find out more. I would like to start my own podcast over the summer, so stay tuned for that as well!
Check out @ablackhistoryofart on Instagram and keep up with the amazing things Alayo is doing!