Inside “Black American Portraits”

2 minutes read

American history through the power of portraiture. Explore Black self-representation expressing joy, beauty, and power, from Civil War to Black Lives Matter eras.

Here is a look at” Black American Portraits.”

A series of artwork

This exhibit showcases more than 140 artworks spanning over 200 years. There are a variety of artworks including paintings, drawings, photography, and sculptures.

Black American Portraits – LACMA

America History

Before the Civil War

The earliest portrait of this exhibit represents a sailor (maybe Paul Cuffe) in the 1800s. This representation, during the period of the slave trade, was unusual.

Sailor – 1800

In the mid-nineteen century, more black people sit for pictures with the development and popularization of photography. With more than 160 portraits, abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American of this time.

Frederick Douglass

Civil Rights

There are different portraits of the Civil Rights movement with representations of Martin Luther King Jr. by artist Edward Biberman, John Lewis by artist Shepard Fairey, and Jesse Owens.

Finally, there are numerous works from artists since the 70s. They represented famous or anonymous black figures in different areas like politics and art.

In the example below, artist Ralph Nelson captured Obama in a mirror and, artist Rico Gaston pictured Charlie Parker, the jazz legend playing his saxophone.

My Highlights

Forever by Bisa Butler, 2020

With Forever, artist Bia Butler paid a tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman. She sewed vibrant textiles – cotton, silk, and velvet – to create this portrait.

Forever by Bisa Butler, 2020

Mickalene Thomas

Two beautiful works are engaging Mickalene Thomas as an artist and a subject.

The Inversion of Racquel” by artist Mickalene Thomas (2021) is a collage of different colorful materials.

The Inversion of Racquel” – by artist Mickalene Thomas – 2021

In “Portrait of Mickalene Thomas, the Coyote,” artist Wiley Kehinde, painted her friend as an Old Masters painting. He extended his series of portraits from anonymous black figures to artists (see “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman.”)

Portrait of Mickalene Thomas, the Coyote,” artist Wiley Kehinde

Which portrait did you like the most? Share in comments!


*COVD-19 update as of February 2022*

– Please wear a mask and practice a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself and others

– Please check LACMA and L.A County’s health and safety protocols before your visit


Plan your visit:

  • Exhibit on view from November 7th, 2021 – April 17th, 2022
  • Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
  • Hours: 11:00am-6:00pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, 11:00am – 8:00pm on Friday and, 10:00 am-7:00pm on weekend. Closed on Wednesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
  • Admission: $25 per adult, free after 3 pm Monday-Friday for L.A County resident. Advance timed-entry reservations are recommended.
  • Duration: I spent 45 minutes discovering it.
  • Parking: paid on-site lot and metered street parking
  • More information is available at Black American Portraits | LACMA

Article based on my visit in January 2022

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