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Kerry James Marshall

Artist 152

Kerry James Marshall

African American Identity


Kerry James Marshall (born October 17, 1955) is an American artist who lives in Chicago, Illinois. He engages with the issue of race in his work. His work is steeped in black history and black popular culture embracing blackness as a signifier of difference to critically address the marginalization of blacks in the visual sphere. His artworks are identity-based, specifically, he made black aesthetic to be visible and brought black aesthetic into the fold of the grand narrative of art.

Marshall works to find a balance to retain political content relevant to the Civil Right Movement, the Watts Race Riots, and contemporary African-American experiences.

Marshall believes art is that the gears of historical and institutional power in Western art resided primarily in painting.

Strongly influenced by his experiences as a young man, he developed a signature style during his early years as an artist that involved the use of extremely dark, essentially black figures.

These images represent his perspective of African Americans, specifically black men with separate and distinct inner and outer appearances. At the same time, they confront racial stereotypes within contemporary American society.

Using his own words, he uses blackness to amplify the difference as an oppositional force, both aesthetically and philosophically.

One such “black” issue Marshall takes up is that of beauty. “Black is beautiful” was one of the Black Arts movement’s slogans to counter the prevailing view that it was inherently unattractive. Marshall directly appropriates the slogan in some of his works by utilizing language.

Marshall’s work embraces black history and black popular culture. His artworks are closely related to the Black Arts movement.

Through exploring the theme of being black in America, Marshall’s work also explores race in context with the “Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, housing projects, black beauty, and the political and social invisibility of blacks”.

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