While the debate about the qualifications of “emerging” artist continues—especially given the complication of social media—the simplest way to approach at the ambiguous classification is by looking at artists in the early stages of their careers: those that are just starting their journey and already gaining the attention of curators and collectors. In other words, artists who know how to drive and have their foot on the pedal. In the midst of Black History Month, CULTURED looked across geography and disciplines for this group of interesting, committed, and dynamic emerging Black American artists primed to change the world.
Ciarra K. Walters
Ciarra K. Walters, 30, is an interdisciplinary artist focusing primarily on performance, movement, and photography. With a true hunger for knowledge, she summons the spirit of the pioneers before her—such as the visual artist Senga Nengudi and photographer Ming Smith—through her projects. Currently in the Photography and Media + Society MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Walters is committed to deep research and introspection of art history, which she documents in her self-published newsletter, An Artletter. The artist will be part of the upcoming group exhibition, "Senga Taught Me" curated by Breeana N. Thorne for Opulent Material, and her work was recently featured in the group exhibition, "Personal Perspective" at her college last fall.
Adrian Armstrong, 33, was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, and describes himself as a “full time pen artist.” His commitment to specific material and process is quite remarkable, much like the work of artists like Toyin Ojih Odutola, who works primarily in ballpoint pen or Kenturah Davis, who mainly uses charcoal to compose her portraits. Armstrong combines his penmanship with painting, installation, and sound to question how Black experiences intersect with the history of photography, portraiture, and collage. Recent exhibitions include a solo exhibition “There are Black People in Nebraska” presented in Austin, Texas and the Benefit Auction and exhibition “My People” presented by Good Black Art in partnership with Artsy, NYC Culture Club, and Fairchain.
Lex Marie, 30, is a multidisciplinary artist from Prince George's County, Maryland who uses paintings, sculptures, and installations to reflect on her individual experiences. Marie often incorporates found objects, including her own personal collection of childhood report cards, photos, and other school and childhood ephemera, to put a tangible form to memories, channeling experiences many children, specifically African American children, have faced in schools and at home. The result is a unique visual memoir that so many of us can relate to. As a mother to a young son, Marie also channels inspiration from her own experience as a young parent, and serves as an example of the many ways women in the arts can beautifully and magically remain committed to both family and their art practice. Recent exhibitions include “Let Them Kids be Kids” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington, which will be traveling to New York next week, marking the artist’s first solo exhibition debut in the city.
Rakeem Cunningham, 30, was born in Pacoima, California, and is currently based in Los Angeles. A breath of fresh air, his work channels the fun and fantasy that is reminiscent artists such as David LaChapelle along with the beautiful range of Black cultural identity from photographers like Jamel Shabazz and Paul Mpagi Sepuya and his own peers like Jheyda McGarrell. Cunningham’s practice utilizes photography, collage, installation, and video to explore the nuances of queer Black experiences while forming clear declarations around subjectivity and validation. He draws inspiration from manga, anime, and video games, beautifully orchestrating photoshoots which often include himself and others in cosplay and other transformative, liberating, and restorative gestures. Cunningham earned a BFA in Design + Media Arts from University of California, Los Angeles and has previously shown a solo booth at NADA New York 2022 with Ochi Projects and the exhibition “White Artists Don’t Have to Make Work About Racial Identity” at Littman + White Galleries in Portland, Oregan. This year, Cunningham’s work will be included in several exhibitions, including “Queer Threads” at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose, California, as well as “Love is Love: Queer Affection and Romance in Contemporary Art” at Lehman College Art Gallery in the City University of New York in the Bronx.
Sydney Vernon, 28, is another artist hailing from Prince George’s County, Maryland, and she currently lives and works in New York. Vernon superimposes personal family photographs and folklore with both real and imagined histories, quietly critiquing the global depiction of Black life and bodies. Combining elements of painting, drawing, and collage, her multilayered works blend memory and history into new forms, at once imagining a poetic contextualization and a demand for recontextualization, coalescing symbols and ornaments with the spirit of her figures. Vernon earned a BFA from The Cooper Union and recent exhibitions include “Black Femme: Sovereign of WAP and the Virtual Realm,” curated by Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle at Canada Gallery, New York in 2021 and a solo exhibition “When We See Us” at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York. Vernon will be included in a few upcoming shows, including Sargent’s Daughters inaugural show in its new LA Gallery opening during Frieze week as well as an upcoming group exhibition with Luce Gallery in Italy. Last month, Kapp Kapp gallery announced its representation of the artist and Vernon will have a debut solo exhibition with the gallery this fall.
Hasef, 33, lives and works in his hometown of Los Angeles and has successfully built a multidisciplinary and community focused art practice that incorporates mixed media paintings, works on paper, conceptual work, and public murals. His work also explores Blackness in a global context inspired in part by his travels and research in the Caribbean and West Africa. The artist earned his MFA in studio art from Claremont Graduate University and completed the Sotheby’s Institute of Art certification program in Art & Marketing. Hasef has been commissioned by LA hotspot Hilltop Coffee in Inglewood, co-owned by Issa Rae. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at Moorpark College and Chimento Contemporary in Los Angeles and the group exhibition, “Blackstract” at Tag Gallery alongside other contemporary Black artists, including CULTURED Young Artists 2021 alum Haleigh Nickerson. His work has also been included in Future Fair and Tina Knowles’s Wearable Art Gala. The artist, who was recently awarded the 2023 Getty Unshuttered Teaching Fellowship, is currently in the group exhibition “Crafting the Future” at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art and will participate in a summer fellowship at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.