Let’s face it, it’s virtually impossible to keep track of all the big name, contemporary artists of our day–let alone popular multicultural creators. Art has a wax and wane not unlike the cycle of the moon: some get left in the dark while others are briefly illuminated. In this sense, an artist that may seem popular one moment is no longer trendy the next.
So we have compiled a quick, no-nonsense guide to the best multicultural artists of the present day, who have broken on to the art scene and don’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.
But note! These are international art prodigies, so drop their names at the next gallery opening or dinner party you attend (no matter what country you may be in) and prepare to watch jaws drop in awe of your superior art world knowledge.
5. Allora & Calzadilla
American creator Jennifer Allora and Cuban artist Guillermo Calzadilla have collaborated since 1995 to create socially charged works of art that test out notions of nationality, borders, and democracy. The two have been dubbed “meticulous researchers” as they heavily explore themes and subjects before creating their work. The materials the duo use–particularly the original usage, history, or symbolism behind said objects–plays a vital role in their art making process. In 2011, the pair represented the United States at the Venice Biennale.
Most notable works: Track and Field (2011), Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on “Ode to Joy” for a Prepared Piano (2008)
4. Yinka Shonibare MBE
British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE was born in London, England though he grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. At the age of 17, he contracted an illness that left one side of his body paralyzed.
In an interview with PBS, Shonibare admitted that in Nigeria he came from affluent family: his great great grandfather was a chief, his father, a lawyer.
“Because I didn’t grow up feeling inferior to anyone…I couldn’t understand the hierarchy of race in this country [London]. It was somewhat, sort of, alien to me.”
Shonibare’s experiences in London and Nigeria–most notably his introduction to a racial hierarchy–as well as his disability, have greatly influenced his artwork. Through costume design and batik, the artist visually navigated through his own attitude toward colonialism, as well as larger themes rooted in race, and class.
Most notable works: The Swing (After Fragonard) (2001), Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010)
3. Shahzia Sikander
Sikander is credited with having “transported miniature painting into the realm of contemporary art.” The Pakistani born artist specializes in the highly disciplined Indio-Persian miniature painting. She is able to combine the focus, uniformity, and tradition of miniature painting with the Western ideals of creative expression to construct a conceptual body of work. In many of her most well-known pieces, Sikander juxtaposed iconography from Mughal and Rajput styles to explore the histories of India and Pakistan.
Most notable works: Fleshy Weapons (1997), Plush Blush (2003), Pathology of Suspension (2005)
2. El Anatsui
Anatsui weaves colossal wonders out of scraps. He has been known to work with wood, clay, and metal–though his most recent works are composed of discarded metals like caps from liquor containers, tin cans, etc.
Anatsui’s use of such unique material alludes to Western abstract expressionism in both color and form, yet introduces ideas of destruction, transformation, regeneration, and culturalism.
The artist was born in Ghana, attended a Westernized art school in his home country, and has been most active in his art career in Nigeria.
Most notable works: Man’s Cloth (1998-2001), Three Continents (2009)
1. Julie Mehretu
What kind of list would this be if we didn’t mention Julie Mehretu? The international superstar is is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, just this year the artist sold a work of art for a whopping $5 million dollars. Her work is housed in the private collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and has earned her a multitude of awards and accolades.
Born in Ethiopia to an American mother and Ethiopian father, the artist grew up in a multicultural household. Around the age of 7, her family left Ethiopia for East Lansing, Michigan where Mehretu resided through her young adult years. As the artist was a Third Culture Kid before she even entered second grade, it should come as no surprise that Mehretu’s art is largely influenced by culture, civilizations, development, and geography. Essentially she creates massive abstracted maps. Of her work, Mehretu has stated:
“I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place.” —Julie Mehretu, as quoted by Laurie Firstenberg, “Painting Platform in NY,” Flash Art Vol. XXXV No. 227, November/December 2002, p. 70.
Most notable works: Mogamma (A Painting In Four Parts) (2012), Stadia II (2004)