Join Us In Celebrating Black History Month!
This year’s theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” recognizes the immense impact of Black Americans in various fields. They shaped and enriched visual arts, music, literature, theater, film, and more. From the Harlem Renaissance to hip-hop, jazz to soul, abstract expressionism to Afrofuturism, African Americans have created and innovated movements that reflect their experiences, identities, and aspirations.
A few of our EPIC colleagues have selected inspirational figures who hold deep meaning for them. Enjoy!
Erin Milliken Proudly Presents The Talented Photographer Tsoku Maela
Tsoku Maela is a talented artist and photographer who demonstrates the intersection of being black and battling with mental illness. Tsoku Maela’s photographic transformation shows depression as something that is physically consuming and ever-present, though potentially invisible to the everyday eye.
Tsoku Maela is a visual artist hailing from South Africa – his work photographs an artist’s depression to destigmatize mental illness. His work is art and activism that is relevant and timeless in the ongoing battle of mental health and total wellbeing.
Inspired by his past and imagery of dreams, Maela’s work and practice primarily concern itself with human behavior and well-being within socio-economic and psychospiritual frameworks. Tsoku Maela completed his undergraduate at The South African School of Motion Picture Medium, Cape Town, in 2014. He worked as a copywriter and scriptwriter for both corporate advertising and live television shortly thereafter, but it was in his experimental photography as a hobbyist that he found clarity in issues of the mind, body, and spirit through modes of storytelling as an archive of past and future realities.
Growing up in a country scarred by colonial histories and living as part of a generation navigating the self through a young democracy, Maela’s approach utilizes these memories and histories to construct new African and global perspectives and futures. In short, using stories to empower and heal instead of reliving historical traumas with no end in sight.
See more about Maela and his work here.
Calvin Conerly Proudly Presents The Young And Talented Author, Poet, And Activist Amanda Gorman
Even though she’s less than 30 years old, Amanda Gorman has proven that she is one of the most influential voices of our time. The Harvard-educated author, poet, and activist published her first book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015 at the age of 17. In 2017, she became the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate and the first youth poet to open the season at the Library of Congress.
Amanda Gorman is most famous for being the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. The week before her reading at the inauguration, she told a book critic at The Washington Post that, “My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country” and “with my words, I’ll be able to speak to a new chapter and era for our nation.” Later that year, Amanda was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and a book version of “The Hill We Climb” was published. It debuted at #1 on the New York Times and USA Today best sellers’ lists.
While it is important to pay homage to African American literary greats, like Langston Hughes and James Balwin, it is critical that we support phenomenal young talents, like Amanda Gorman. Supporting their work helps ensure that our stories, past and present, will be heard for years to come.
Learn more about Amanda Gorman today.
Melissa Shore Proudly Presents Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a monumental African American artist who rose to fame in the 1980’s. He was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1960. He started his artistic expression as a graffiti artist in the late 1970s under the alias “SAMO,” which you can find in some of his paintings. When he transitioned to painting and drawings, his pieces were influenced by his graffiti background. He expressed complex imagery and social commentary by using bold colors and incorporating words and symbols in his work.
One of my favorite pieces, and viewed as one of the most famous works, is “Untitled” Skull (1982). The painting sold for $110.5M in 2017, which is one of the highest prices ever paid for an American artist’s piece of work. Basquiat was very close friends with another neo-expressionist artist named Andy Warhol.
Tragically, Basquiat’s life was cut short when he passed away from an overdose in 1988; he was only 27 years old. Basquiat’s impact on the art world still lives on, and legacy continues to inspire and influence artists, musicians, and collectors worldwide.
I chose this artist to feature due to his art’s impact on me. I remember being a little on the train in Philly and seeing his infamous crown spray painted on a black head shape on a train car, and I was intrigued in every sense. His art expressed the emotion and color of African American culture, unlike any other artist during that time.
“I believe colonialism has done more than contribute to the state of mental health in Africans everywhere. ”
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“There is always a light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
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“The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with Black people in them.”
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