Kerry James Marshall makes Black Figures the Central Subject

“I committed myself to only making black figures in my paintings because there are not enough” – Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall an American born artist with a difference. He has dedicated his career to paint and sculpt pieces that make the life and history of the African American their subject matter. Not many artist, it seems like, can lay claim to such a commitment. Marshall attributes his interest in these subjects to the geography of his upbringing and also he recognises that images of Black people and Black History are not given much attention. Consequently, Kerry dedicates his career to doing just that.

In the below video, Kerry James Marshall discusses his painting SOB, SOB. Painted in 2003, SOB, SOB marks a pivotal moment in Marshall’s career. It is one of the first paintings to address the idea of black aesthetics.

The painting depicts a female figure seated in front of a tall book shelf filled with books about African history. There is a volume titled Africa since 1413 that lies on the floor just in front of her as she gazes off into the distance. As if reflecting on what she has just read. It’s unclear whether her contemplative gaze is one of wistful longing for a pre-colonial past. Or if it’s anguish over the transformation of the African continent that began in 1413 with European expeditionary missions.

“Black people occupy a space, even mundane spaces, in the most fascinating ways. Style is such an integral part of what black people do that just walking is not a simple thing. You’ve got to walk with style. Talk with a certain rhythm; Do things with some flair. And so in the paintings I try to enact that same tendency toward the theatrical that seems to be so integral a part of the black cultural body”

Kerry James Marshall Sob Sob