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Water Cooler: Explore African American art history on YouTube

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 15, 2021

Artist Kerry James Marshall at the 2017 unveiling of his mural on the west wall of the Chicago Cultural Center.  (Associated Press)
Artist Kerry James Marshall at the 2017 unveiling of his mural on the west wall of the Chicago Cultural Center. (Associated Press)

If you want to learn more about African American art history for Black History Month, YouTube is the place to go. It’s free, accessible from home and many of the videos combine visuals of artworks with discussion providing important context. Here are 11 videos to start with:

“Kerry James Marshall: On Museums,” posted by Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: Kerry James Marshall discusses the narrative and structure of the field of art history and how it tends to place confines on what it means to create art. The video exhibits several of Marshall’s works as he discusses his interest in the concepts of representation, referencing culture and history through images, and portraying Black people in his work with complexity and integrity.

“American Soul: The DuSable Museum of African-American History,” posted by Great Museums: The history and reason behind the foundation of The DuSable Museum and how it helped complete the story of the total American experience. The video shows various exhibits in the museum such as “Africa Speaks” which highlights African heritage, “Distorted Images,” which discusses the importance of preserving racist depictions of Black Americans in order to understand their lasting influence in American narratives, and “Songs of My People,” which explores the world of African Americans as shown by Black photographers.

“Richmond Barthé: African-American sculptor (1901-1989),” posted by AfricanAmericanArt: Archival footage of James Richmond Barthé working on a sculpture and showing other pieces of work around his home. {span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}{/span}

“Meet the Artist: Fred Wilson,” posted by Museum of Glass: Fred Wilson discusses his work with glass as well as experience as an exhibitioner for renowned museums.

“Colored Frames [Documentary],” posted by Boondoggle: A look at the influences, inspirations and experiences of Black artists and how they used art as a way to depict Black people in a positive light. The documentary begins with art at the beginning of the American civil rights movement and analyzes how art in the Black community grew and changed over time.

“Elizabeth Catlett: Wake Up In Glory,” posted by Malin Gallery: Musician and artist Unity Lewis walks through an exhibition dedicated to the work of Elizabeth Catlett and recalls his personal memories of her.

“Convergence: Jewish and African American Artists,” posted by garynoakton: A walk-through of the exhibition “Convergence: Jewish and African American Artists in Depression-era Chicago,” which was on display at Oakton Community College’s Koehnline Museum. It highlights overlapping experiences between the two groups, and how those communities worked together in 1930s Chicago.

“Faith Ringgold: Artist & Activist,” posted by MAKERS: Faith Ringgold shares experiences from her childhood in Harlem and how she came to find her love for art. Ringgold is a sculptor, painter and writer who worked to continue the traditional art of story quilts, but through the medium of paint.

“The Harlem Renaissance,” posted by Black History in Two Minutes: A brief overview of one of the most iconic art movements in America that captured the story of The Great Migration and the creation that it spurred in Harlem, New York. Featuring archival footage and photos of artists of the movement.

“Augusta Savage: African-American sculptor (1892-1962),” posted by AfricanAmericanArt: Archival footage of Savage as she works on various sculptures in her studio.

“Jacob Lawrence | Artist Interviews,” posted by Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Interviews with the Harlem Renaissance painter Jacob Lawrence and others, focusing on the impact of his art and what it reflected about the Black experience.

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