Figuring History at the SAM

Promoting a positive black image in art.


Art is Black.
Figuring History, an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, is showcasing black artists and black art.
This exhibit explores who is included in art history and who is forgotten. It prompts viewers to consider questions such as, “who is represented in history?” and “who authors history?”
In most cases, the answers to those questions are white people. Figuring History makes space for black artists to author their own history. It’s a change of pace that gives a different group of artists more attention.
While the museum regularly draws a large crowd, this exhibition appeals to a different demographic of people.
“A younger crowd has been coming to this exhibit, compared to our last one. It’s been great to see young faces appreciating art,” said John, an employee of the Seattle Art Museum. “The crowd has been diversified and there are more people of color proportionally to white people.”
It’s easy to see why this exhibition is a hit. Young people and people of color are eager to see new types of representation in art.
The art world is dominated by white people, from the artists to the audiences. Art is seen as a luxury. It’s expensive to buy and can be expensive to see. Because of this, black people are often left out of the art scene and lack representation entirely. When black people are given a place in art, people notice the change.
Black figures, bright colors, and sparkles are just some of what stands out in the collection. All three artists featured in this exhibit make black people and black art a priority.
Mickalene Thomas is one of the artists featured in Figuring History. She focuses on the portrayal of femme beauty and black women in art. Many of her paintings include nude women, allowing a sense of power, self awareness and ownership that is radical in the art world.
Kerry James Marshall is another black artist whose work can be found at the exhibition. His work provides insight into the black identity and experience. He references the lack of representation of people of color in the art world and how this affects the stereotypes around people of color. His work adds black style and black people into traditional European Art.
Robert Colescott was a black artist who passed away in 2009 whose work is also featured in Figuring History. He was especially interested in racial relations in America and expressed them through his art. Colescott found flaws in society which he communicated through irony and sarcasm. His work puts black subjects as the focus while still acknowledging the oppression they face.
Three unique takes on the same subject, black people in art, force the viewer to think about art in different ways and realize the lack of representation we have become accustomed to. The work of Thomas, Marshall and Colescott have been brought together cohesively to bring Figuring History to Seattle until May 13th. It’s definitely an exhibition worth seeing.