Protests against systemic racism and police brutality are helping to create new conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion. They’re key issues in the art world, where artists of color are significantly underrepresented.
Knowing that’s the case, we’re highlighting the work of several black artists working in Arizona, hoping it will inspire you to learn more about local artists of color, whose art often reflects their own commitment to social justice.
Merryn Alaka works in multiple mediums, including jewelry and prints. Often her creative practice explores issues of social justice and cultural representation. Most recently, she has served as co-curator for Modified Arts. Her work has been exhibited at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, and other venues.
Phoenix native Antoinette Cauley specializes in portraits that reference rap music and hip-hop culture while addressing both social issues and her own “internal conflicts.” Her paintings have been exhibited by Artlink, monOrchid, West Valley Arts HQ, and others. In addition to her art practice, Cauley spends time teaching youth art classes.
Artist Aaron Coleman was born in Washington, D.C. He’s an assistant professor with the School of Art at the University of Arizona in Tucson whose work often explores stereotypes and policies that devalue people of color. Coleman’s paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works have been shown at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, Modified Arts, and other art spaces.
Clottee Hammons is an artist, poet, activist, educator, curator, and prevention specialist with a longtime presence in the metro Phoenix creative community, where her work often challenges community members to learn more about black history in Arizona and elevates the contributions of fellow artists of color.
Stephen Marc Smith
Artist Stephen Marc Smith, a professor with the School of Art at Arizona State University, hails from Chicago. His art practice is centered on photography and digital montages. His body of work includes photographs taken at various protests against political leaders with racist policies. He’s also created work addressing the Underground Railroad traveled by escaped slaves seeking freedom.
Joe Willie Smith
A longtime staple of the metro Phoenix arts scene, Joe Willie Smith was born in Arkansas, where his family were sharecroppers. He’s been making art all his life, often using found or discarded objects such as crushed metal car parts. He spent many years working in graphic design. His body of work also includes sonic sculptures. His work has been exhibited by Eye Lounge, Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, Scottsdale Public Art, and other art spaces.
Papay Solomon is a Phoenix-based artist and Liberian war refugee whose work explores the intersection of Western culture with the African diaspora. When painting portraits, he includes imagery that reflects the history and unique life experiences of his subjects. His work had been exhibited at Phoenix Art Museum, the University of Arizona, and other venues.
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Artist Chip Thomas, who often creates work using the name “Jetsonorama,” is also an activist, physician, and photographer. He has lived and worked for more than three decades in the Navajo Nation, where he curates a mural project called the Painted Desert. His work, which often addresses social justice issues, has been shown at Coconino Center for the Arts, Chartreuse, and other creative spaces.