18 Black Artists Showcased Their Powerful Work Front and Center at the US Open
The 2020 US Open kicked off on Aug. 31 with some of the best tennis players from around the world battling it out on the court, and while the stands may not be filled with fans this year, they are worthy of applause. As part of the USTA's Be Open Initiative "to advance inclusivity and diversity through tennis," the organization has transformed the front-row seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium with artwork from 18 Black artists across the country. The "Black Lives to the Front" installation highlights various art styles with the intent of calling attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, sparking meaningful conversations and bringing racial equality to the forefront.
"This year more than ever, we wanted to use our global platform in a meaningful way by engaging in an important and much-needed conversation about racial inequality in our country," USTA representative Nicole Kankam told POPSUGAR via email. "We are incredibly proud of the Black Lives to the Front initiative and the remarkable artwork the 18 Black and BIPOC artists created. We are bringing the Black Lives Matter conversation to the forefront and we hope that, while millions watch the world's greatest tennis players from home, the art installation will encourage people to talk about the issues and learn about these remarkable artists and their stories."
The artwork will consistently be presented on screen, making it viewable to people worldwide. Keep reading for a closer look at all 18 pieces and to hear more about the Black artists behind the powerful works of art.
"Legacy" by Alexandre Keto
Alexandre Keto is a Brazilian artist heavily influenced by American graffiti and Samba, his spiritual Orisha worship. Keto seeks to celebrate, reconnect, and value the African heritage through his art while also spreading the message of community to overlooked neighborhoods. His piece "Legacy" is inspired by Black female athletes and their legacies in the sports world.
"The yellow dress and the red flower is a reference to Althea Gibson when she won the championship," Keto said of the piece. "The character has a serene expression (serenity is the origin of the name Serena) and she's holding the Earth and the planet next to Earth is Venus. Sloane Stephens has a foundation where she works for children working for a better world. The planet Earth is being transformed and the butterflies represent that too. Through the tennis, they all hold the world in their hands."
"Queen" by Alisha Wilkerson
Alisha Wilkerson is a self-taught artist who creates "bright, bold, and expressive illustrations" that celebrate the Black community. Her piece "Queen" is inspired by Breonna Taylor and seeks to shed Black women of the "loud and sassy" stereotype by highlighting their softness and beauty.
"I realized after Breonna Taylor was murdered that we as Black women aren't allowed our flowers while we're alive, and have to wait until after an untimely death to get them," Wilkerson said. "And even then we're still battling stereotypes set out by the media. The murder of Breonna Taylor pushed me to want to start making images of Black women as we should be seen: as Queens. If this helps someone from the next generation see their beauty early on, then I've done my job as an artist."
"Lady Solidarity" by Boyd Samuels
Boyd Samuels is a self-taught artist based in New York City who showcases the beauty of the African-American form using oil paints. His piece "Lady Solidarity" is a tribute to the fight for equal rights and racial justice in the US. "We continue to fight and pray that someday things will change, so we can all live together in peace and harmony."
"Resilience" by Brittany Williams
Brittany Williams is an artist from Rochester, NY, who uses vivid color palettes to depict everyday people and the world around her. Williams's works have been shown in public spaces, companies, editorial publications, and galleries. Her piece "Resilience" is "dedicated to Black mothers who are committed to challenging the narrative around motherhood."
"Black Lives Have Mattered" by Cheryl R. Riley
Cheryl R. Riley is an artist, furniture designer, and art advisor who has been creating wall-art installations and custom pieces since 1986. Through her art, Riley explores the similarities between cultures that seem different using the lens of "gender, history, rituals, implements, and symbols."
Riley's piece "Black Lives Have Mattered" highlights the names of just a few people whose accomplishments constitute memorable "firsts" for the African-American community. "They and others I included overcame undemocratic, racist and/or sexist barriers and are the beacons of liberty, justice and freedom that the United States is to the world," Riley said. "My hope is that their names will spark conversations and deeper investigations that lead to appreciation, inclusion and respect."
"Lights Keep Fading" by Delano Dunn
Delano Dunn is an artist from Los Angeles who explores questions of racial identity and perception through paint, mixed media, and collage. Dunn's subjects range from the personal to the political, and his work "Lights Keep Fading" is a tribute to the legacy of civil rights activists and the importance of Black lives.
"As a kid growing up in 1980s South Central Los Angeles, outer space was a beacon to me," Dunn said. "Space travel meant discovery, it meant learning something new about ourselves and our world. Signifiers of the American space race, both distinctive and obscure, find their way into much of the work I make not only because of this personal significance, but because of the simultaneity of this part of American history with our Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s."
"Faith" by El Souls
Dionelo "El Souls" Alverez is an artist who creates photorealist portraits, typography/graffiti, and Impressionist artwork. His piece "Faith" is a portrait of a young girl wearing a durag who finds peace of mind in watching tennis matches and takes inspiration from the strategic moves presented on the screen. "The portrait raises awareness of bringing people together in a world that has its eye towards the current climate surrounding race relations globally, while addressing love, elevating issues and embracing change," Alverez said.
"Reflection" by Foremost
Foremost is a self-taught visual artist who creates works that challenge Black people to "rethink what it means what it means to be Black as it relates to state violence and racial disparity." Black love, Black resilience, and Black freedom are at the center of his digital, collage, and illustrative works.
Foremost's piece "Reflection" is meant to emulate the reflection he sees in the bathroom mirror. "I look into this mirror every day, day in and day out," he said. "In the morning I wash my face in front of it, twist my hair, and at night I put on my durag and brush my teeth . . . I wanted to show how my eyes see Black people. When I walk down the streets of my neighborhood or turn on my television, I can see Black people shining. I like to think it is a superpower that I possess as an artist. No matter where we live, what we do, or who we love, in my eyes we are always luminous, precious, and golden. Now you can see it too."
"Be Open To . . ." by Janel Young
Janel Young is an artist from Pittsburgh who creates murals, abstract pieces, and landscape works that are easily identifiable for their bright colors, blending, and geometric inspiration. Her work "Be Open To . . . " embodies her motto of "inspire through creativity and play" by celebrating "love, justice, listening, the truth, growth, a power shift, Blackness in all its beautiful forms, culture, and equity."
While the closed jar in the background represents "a broken power system in America," the open jar in the foreground represents all the love, joy, and power that the Black community has to give to the world. "These words, actions, and understanding need to not only be released, but need to fill the nation and the world for us to move forward in the movements of equality, racial justice, Black acceptance and Black celebration," Young said.
"Black Joy" by Liz Montague
Liz Montague is a cartoonist and illustrator whose art "focuses on the intersection of self and social awareness." Montague has been profiled by multiple media outlets, and she is currently working a young-adult graphic novel, which is set for publication in fall 2020 for Random House.
Her piece "Black Joy" is a diversion from society's hyperfocus on Black suffering, seeking to fill in the missing pieces of the Black narrative in the US. "While creating this piece I thought not about the tear-jerking moments on the news or the constant timeline trauma, but all the moments in between," Montague said. "For this piece I wanted to create something that was fun to look at and fun to make."
"Emerge" by Madina Reece
Madina Reece is an artist from Guyana who is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and specializes in highlighting unheard voices by creating visual narratives. Her paintings use realism to convey powerful emotion, and her piece "Emerge" captures the pain of racial injustice and police brutality through her eyes.
"Being a Black woman, I have seen and experienced racism within America," she said. "Seeing my people being killed just because of the color of their skin brings pain to my heart . . . Within this piece, I want the viewers to understand that we need to emerge as a community and put an end to racism and make the All Lives Matter slogan something that's true. Let us emerge so the future generation doesn't have to go through the same pain and fighting."
"Protect BLK Women Period" by Megan Lewis
Megan Lewis is a professional multidisciplinary illustrator who uses various mediums and bold colors to address social, historical, and cultural issues experienced by Black women. Lewis is also the creator of the wearable brand Blk Women Period. Her piece "Protect Blk Women Period" is part of an ongoing series that began in 2015 and captures her evolving experience as a Black woman living in America. "This piece showcases the neglect that society has towards making sure Black women are safe," she said. "We are tender and need to be protected at all costs."
"Break Point" by Nikkolas Smith
Nikkolas Smith is a concept artist, Hollywood film illustrator, and children's book author who creates art meant to spark conversation and provoke meaningful change. His piece "Break Point" is inspired by the thousands of men and women who continue to battle against the "400-year-old pandemic of American racism." "This piece seeks to embody the face of the endless struggle and fortified resolve of everyone living the Black American experience," he said. "We will turn our breaking points into break points: We will not be broken."
"In Anger Still We March" by Ron Haywood Jones
Ron Haywood Jones is an artist from Detroit who works in New York City creating editorial art for print and textile design. His piece "In Anger Still We March" is a tribute to all those who have risked their lives amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to march for justice and racial equality. "With close to 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the US alone, people are saying enough is enough," he said. "They march for justice while risking health to bring a change."
"The New Black ABC's: (E Is For Everybody)" by Sammy Jean Wilson
Sammy Jean Wilson is an artist who uses digital art and mixed-media illustration to reimagine images of the past through the lens of an alternate reality. Inspired by her multiracial background, Wilson's work is a commentary on race, body politics, class, self-awareness, storytelling, food, and culture.
Her piece "The New Black ABC's: (E Is For Everybody)" proposes an alternate history in which the COVID-19 outbreak happened 50 years sooner and imagines the measures that would have been taken to minimize the spread of the virus. "Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are often under-represented in education, given little chance to excel . . . 'E Is For Everybody' is a pivotal flash card in this series, reminding us all that we are in this struggle together. We have a responsibility to care of one another to ensure a brighter tomorrow; 'everybody' deserves a chance to achieve their dreams."
"Rising From the Blue" by Sevah Darbouze
Sevah Darbouze is an 18-year-old artist and fine arts student at Parsons New School. Her Korean and Haitian heritage is reflected in her work through her use of color and composition. Darbouze's piece "Rising From the Blue" celebrates Black women who have recently gained confidence, appreciation, and love for who they are. "They are rising from the sadness that was brought upon them from years of trying to conform to a standard that was opposite of their natural selves," she said. "They are finally beginning to see themselves as princesses, heroes, and role models that others can look up to."
"Young Eric Garner . . . Isaiah 54:13" by Sophia Dawson
Sophia Dawson is a visual artist who has dedicated her life's work to shed a light on the experiences and stories of individuals fighting to overcome individual and societal injustices. Her work has featured mothers who have lost their children to police brutality, the Exonerated 5, and political prisoners from the Black Liberation movement. Through her art, she hopes to humanize the social-justice issues faced by Black Americans on a daily basis and prevent history from repeating itself.
Her piece "Young Eric Garner . . . Isaiah 54:13" is a portrait of Eric Garner — who was killed by a police officer in July 2014 — as a baby being held by his father. The painting is part of a series that features the families of victims of police brutality and features scriptures from Isaiah 54 and Isaiah 61, which command healing, peace, joy, and restoration.
"Wind at Her Back" by Vincent Ballentine
Vincent Ballentine is a multidisciplined visual artist who uses his talent to mentor young artists in Brooklyn, NY. His piece "Wind at Her Back" portrays an African-American woman with a confident expression who is blending into her surroundings. The piece is a celebration of African-American beauty and accomplishment.
"For too long, African-Americans have had to conform to beauty standards," he said. "Hair isn't straight enough, too dark of a complexion, not enough this and too much of that. Ultimately losing identity everytime one wants to venture into society. I want Black people to love themselves — love your nappy hair, dark skin, broad shoulders, and thick thighs. Let the world see you for you, and be unapologetic about the pride in each step."