Past Event

“The Negro Artist’s Dilemma” Revisited: An Abstract Artist Summit


“The…most perplexing problem is the evident pressure exerted on the Negro artist to use his art as an instrument to mirror the social injustices inflicted upon his people,” reads Romare Bearden’s seminal 1946 essay “The Negro Artist’s Dilemma.” We’ll revisit the artist’s perspective in conversation with conceptual and abstract artists of today.


  • Lorraine O’Grady | Conceptual Artist
  • Suzanne Jackson | Abstract Artist
  • Shinique Smith | Abstract Artist


  • Chase Quinn | Curator of Education and Programs, Gibbes Museum of Art

Introduction by Andrew Eschelbacher, Director of Curatorial Affairs

This event was presented in partnership with the Gibbes Museum of Art on the occasion of the AFA traveling exhibition Romare Bearden: Abstraction, on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art through January 9, 2022.

Lorraine O’Grady combines strategies related to humanist studies on gender, the politics of diaspora and identity, and reflections on aesthetics by using a variety of mediums that include performance, photo installation, moving media, and photomontage. A native of Boston, MA, her work involves her heritage as a New Englander, and daughter of Caribbean immigrant parents. After she graduated from Wellesley College in 1956 studying economics and Spanish literature, she served as an intelligence analyst for the United States government, a literary and commercial translator, and rock music critic. Turning to visual arts in the late 1970s, O’Grady became an active voice within the alternative New York art world of the time. In addition to addressing feminist concerns, her work tackled cultural perspectives that had been underrepresented during the feminist movements of the early 1970s.


Suzanne Jackson first moved westward with her parents to San Francisco, after which the family continued north to Yukon Territory. She came of age in the remote natural environment of pre-statehood Alaska, later returning to the Bay Area to study painting and theater at San Francisco State University, and dance at the Pacific Ballet. She settled in Echo Park in 1967, where she worked as an artist and teacher, and attended Charles White’s drawing class at Otis Art Institute. Jackson engaged a community of artist and activist peers through Gallery 32, which she ran from her studio in the Granada Buildings near McArthur Park from 1968 to 1970. Her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles was held at the Ankrum Gallery in 1972. Jackson works in Savannah, Georgia, where she has lived since 1996. She is a 2019 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant and was recently the subject of a major retrospective exhibition and monograph, Five Decades. She has exhibited solo projects at O-Town House, Los Angeles (2019), Danville Museum of Fine Arts, Danville, Virginia (2010), and Fashion Moda, New York (1984).

Shinique Smith is a Los Angeles based painter and sculptor known for her monumental abstractions of calligraphy textiles and collage. Smith’s personal histories and belongings intertwine with thoughts of the vast nature of ‘things’ that we consume and discard and how objects resonate on an intimate and social scale. Over the last twenty years, Smith has gleaned visual poetry from vintage clothing and explored concepts of ritual through tying, writing and gestures inspired by her travels and her early graffiti roots in Baltimore. Through her process, Smith builds a complex material vocabulary that deftly interweaves brushstrokes, private narratives and symbolism for the viewer to divine and intuit. Smith’s practice operates at the convergence of consumption, displacement and spiritual sanctuary, revealing connections across space, time, and place to suggest the possibility of constructing worlds renewed by hopeful delight.


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