African American Sculpture and Sculptors
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0089
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0089
Beyond monographic texts dedicated to single artists, it is rare to find book-length studies that solely focus African American sculpture—or, sculpture made by African Americans. The reasons for this are many and complex. Although sculpture was a mainstay of 19th-century arts education in Europe and the Americas, in the latter half of the 20th century sculpture was newly questioned as a stable category of production. Between the 18th century and today media-specific practices have been broadly replaced with multimedia ones. This begs the question: what constitutes sculpture in any history or reference text that purports to span a number of centuries? An artist like Renée Green (b. 1959), for example, creates sculpture—discrete, three-dimensional objects—but also multi-part environmental installations, sound works, videos, architecture, and websites, as well as photography and prints. In light of these historical shifts, this bibliography takes a broad view of sculpture, and includes the work of self-described sculptors, such as the 19th-century sculptor Edmonia Lewis, as well as those with pluralistic practices like Green. Similarly, the category of “African American” has come under scrutiny, as the various signifiers of such an identity (for example, phenotype and/or ancestry) shift with broader social, economic, aesthetic, and political systems. Terminology has also changed a great deal since the 18th century—with popular linguistic designations moving from “negro,” to “colored,” to “black,” to “Afro-American,” to “African American,” and back to “black” again. Each contains historical political import, tied to both in-group empowerment and extrinsic, sometimes derogatory, uses. The visual arts are uniquely positioned to approach, understand, question, and challenge these changing social and semiotic conditions, and the anxieties and pleasures of black identification are often registered in nuanced and multifaceted ways within the realm of the visual. It would be a mistake to assume that the term “African American” encompassed the full political force of all artists included here, many of whom experience(d) the reality of intersectional identities and oppressions attached to gender, race, ability, class, and sexuality. For a more complete accounting of the visual arts beyond sculpture, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in African American Studies article Visual Arts.
Survey Texts and Bibliographies
Included in this section are both broad-ranging surveys as well as collected and annotated bibliographies. Porter 1992, Patton 1998, and Lewis 2003 are examples of the former and Cederholm 1973, Davis and Sims 1980, Igoe and Igoe 1981 examples of the latter. Together, these six works can provide a useful starting point for any inquiry into the history of African American sculpture. The larger bibliographic reference texts include many citations for local, regional, and national publications that may otherwise be hard to locate. Because African American sculptors are often in dialogue with non-sculptors, the survey texts here supply a more integrated understanding of artistic expression across media.
Cederholm, Theresa. Afro-American Artists: A Bio-bibliographical Directory. Boston: Trustees of the Boston Public Library, 1973.
Organized by artist’s last name, this compilation is broad in scope and diversity. Brief biographies detail artists’ primary media, prominent works, and exhibition histories. The bibliographies skew toward comprehensive, including rare and hard-to-find periodicals and books. Although it has been nearly fifty years since the volume’s publication, this is an ideal starting point for researchers who know the name of the artist they’d like to know more about.
Davis, Lenwood G., and Janet L. Sims. Black Artists in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography of Books, Articles, and Dissertations on Black Artists, 1779–1979. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.
Gathering nearly five hundred sources on the history, theory, and politics of African American art production in the United States, this annotated bibliography, while now somewhat dated, is valuable as a resource and as a snapshot of the state of the field toward the end of the 20th century. Particular bibliographic attention is paid to African American published journals, such as The Crisis (1910–) and Opportunity (1923–1949).
Igoe, Lynn Moody, and James Igoe. 250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Bowker, 1981.
Comprised of 25,000-plus citations, this reference text is the most comprehensive collection of sources related to African American artists to date. It is divided into three sections including a subject bibliography, a compilation of artist’s bibliographies, and biographies. While not ideal for the researcher examining more recent practices, this volume is still an excellent, if potentially overwhelming, source for those starting the research process.
Lewis, Samella. African American Art and Artists. Rev. and exp. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Although not focused exclusively on African American sculptors, Lewis’s book includes a number of short, introductory biographical briefs on artists within a broad sweep of US history (1619–2002). Early sculptors discussed include Eugene Warburg and Mary Edmonia Lewis, and later artists include Sonya Clark and Annette Lawrence.
Patton, Sharon F. African-American Art. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
The scholar and curator Sharon Patton’s approachable survey of African American art is still the standard undergraduate text in the field. Patton gives a broad overview of African American art, attentive to its changing social contexts, as well as to the biographies of particular artists. It remains an ideal introduction for those new to the field.
Porter, James A. Modern Negro Art. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1992.
First published in 1943, James A. Porter’s book established African American art as a unique field of study. While Porter’s original text can seem dated, an introduction by David Driskell provides important historiographic context, and grapples with the legacy of this pioneering study. Sculpture is addressed in fits and starts, as it applies the practice of particular artists Porter discusses.
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