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African American Forum


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  1. Carrie Mae Weems B. 1953, Portland, Oregon. Lives and works in Syracuse, New York. From Erin Barnett, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, International Center of Photography: Carrie Mae Weems has investigated gender, family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the relationships between power and representation for over 30 years. In From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), a multipart photographic project, Weems brackets well-known 19th- and 20th-century photographic representatio
  2. Mickalene Thomas B. 1971, Camden, New Jersey. Lives and works in New York. From Andrea Andersson, The Helis Foundation Chief Curator of Visual Arts, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans: In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned a photograph by Mickalene Thomas (and later exhibited it at MoMA PS1). It was staged in the museum’s sculpture garden and reimagined Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863). Thomas’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires (2010) depicts three glamorous black women dressed in high fashion,
  3. Lorna Simpson B. 1960, New York. Lives and works in New York. From Heidi Zuckerman, Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO and Director, Aspen Art Museum: Lorna Simpson is, without classification, one of the most outstanding humans I have ever encountered. Her extraordinary, early success led me to study her work while I was still an undergraduate (even though she’s not substantially older than I am). So I knew of her practice long before I had the honor of meeting her—and I admit to being intimidated at first! When I joined Simpson in Paris
  4. Faith Ringgold B. 1930, New York. Lives and works in La Jolla, California, and Englewood, New Jersey. From Vida L. Brown, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager, California African American Museum: Grounded and well-spoken at the age of 88, Faith Ringgold has an internal flame that is yet to be extinguished. As an artist, activist, author, and educator, Ringgold tells stories via various genres. She captures and displays the history of African Americans who continue to thrive despite years of disparaging characterizations, deplorable
  5. Howardena Pindell B. 1943, Philadelphia. Lives and works in New York. From Naomi Beckwith, Manilow Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: Since the 1960s, Howardena Pindell has used unconventional materials such as glitter, talcum powder, and perfume to stretch the boundaries of the rigid custom of the rectangular canvas painting. She has also infused her work with traces of her labor, obsessively affixing dots of pigment and hole-punched paper circles. Despite the effort exerted as she creates these paintings, Pindell’s
  6. Kerry James Marshall B. 1955, Birmingham, Alabama. Lives and works in Chicago. From Ian Alteveer, Aaron I. Fleischman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: One of the great pleasures of working on the 2016 exhibition “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” was visiting the artist’s Chicago studio with my co-curators Helen Molesworth and Dieter Roelstraete. One of these frequent trips entailed a ride down to Bronzeville in the autumn of 2014 to view the paintings that Marshall was finishing for his forthcoming
  7. Rashid Johnson B. 1977, Chicago. Lives and works in New York. From Erin Dziedzic, Director of Curatorial Affairs, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art: Rashid Johnson’s works inspire slowly unfolding viewer experiences and express personal and complex histories through objects and mark-making, something that was palpable in his 2017 exhibition “Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Antoine’s Organ (2016), for example, is a massive sculpture with a network of live potted plants, books, ligh
  8. Sam Gilliam B. 1933, Tupelo, Mississippi. Lives and works in Washington, D.C. From Carrie Dedon, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Seattle Art Museum: Sam Gilliam’s long and distinguished career is defined by constant experimentation. He’s pushed the envelope on abstraction and the medium of painting itself. When he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, Gilliam diverged the Color Field Painting of the day as he innovated not just with paint and color, but with the materiality of the artwork’s
  9. Charles Gaines B. 1944, Charleston, South Carolina. Lives and works in Los Angeles. From Naima J. Keith, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Programs, California African American Museum: I had the pleasure of curating Charles Gaines’s critically acclaimed 2014 exhibition “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974–1989.” It was the first museum survey of his early work; his career now spans four decades. The show included rare and never-before-seen works, some of which were presumed lost. It opened at the Studio Museum in Harlem and later traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Ange
  10. Mark Bradford B. 1961, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles. Mark Bradford has turned his life experiences into art that, while largely abstract, embeds messages of community, awareness, and social justice. Kingdom Day (2010), in the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, for example, incises a map-like network into a deconstructed and collaged billboard advertising the 1992 Los Angeles Kingdom Day Parade. This absorbing composition celebrates the first time a multi-ethnic committee organized the parade, an annual event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and his com
  11. There is a well-documented, persistent, and growing racial wealth gap between African American families and white families in the United States. Studies indicate the median white family in the United States holds more than ten times the wealth of the median African American family. Apart from its obvious negative impact on African American individuals, families, and communities, the racial wealth gap constrains the entire US economy. In a previous report, we projected that closing the racial wealth gap could net the US economy between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028. Despite
  12. The U.S. labor market has been expanding for almost a decade, with workers of all races benefiting from this expansion. However, the progress has not erased systematic racial differences in labor market outcomes. African Americans still face persistently higher unemployment and have less access to good jobs than whites. These systematically different experiences in the labor market exacerbate the need for more wealth for African Americans but also make it more difficult to build that wealth in the first place. Making sure that Black workers have the same access to good jobs as white workers do
  13. African American families need wealth to increase access to good job opportunities. For example, wealth increases the likelihood of people being able to support education for themselves and their children, as well as being able to move to areas with more and better jobs. Yet African American families own much less wealth than whites, and the gap has only widened in recent years. On average, Black families now own about one-fifth of the total wealth, including the imputed wealth of defined benefit pensions, owned by whites. Just before the Great Recession, this gap had shrunk to one-fourth. How
  14. African Americans also receive fewer employer-provided benefits than white workers. Only a little more than half of African Americans—55.4 percent—had private health insurance in 2018, compared with 74.8 percent of whites. Craig Copeland, a researcher at the Employee Benefits Research Institute, estimates that among full-time, year-round workers, African American workers were 14 percent less likely than white workers to have any type of retirement plan through their employer. Fewer workplace benefits make it harder for African Americans to save, since they face higher costs and less help in pr
  15. The hurdles that African Americans face in the labor market from discrimination, pay inequality, and occupational steering are also apparent in indicators of job quality and not just in measures of job availability. Black workers, for example, typically get paid a great deal less than white workers. The typical median weekly earnings for Black full-time employees was $727 from July 2019 to September 2019, compared with $943 for whites. Comparing wages for men and women broken down by race and age again shows that these wage differences persist among full-time workers, indicating that massive
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