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Fashion magazines have rediscovered black art

How fashion has returned to exploring one of the most neglected sectors of contemporary art

Fashion magazines have rediscovered black art How fashion has returned to exploring one of the most neglected sectors of contemporary art

Both September American editions of Vogue and Vanity Fair have in covers paintings made by African-American artists. It's the first time that happens - and one of the very few times Vogue has entrusted its cover to art (in the rare previous cases artists like Dali or de Chirico have been involved) - and the fact that it happens practically at the same time tells of a trend that has been going on for some time now: the fashion world has finally noticed black art

In recent months Vogue US has released two covers, entrusted to Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel, thus trying to represent different spectra of the artistic discipline. Kerry James Marshall is one of the most famous black painters since Basquiat. In 2017, his painting Past Times was sold at auction by Sotheby's for 21 million dollars, making him the highest-paid African-American artist ever. The painting was purchased by Sean "Diddy" Combs, one of the richest and most influential rappers in the history of American hip hop.

Jordan Casteel is a 31-year-old artist from Harlem, a rising star in the art world who has become famous for representing the everyday life of her neighborhood. Both artists were given carte blanche in the making of the work, with the sole constraint of representing one of the 4 brands chosen by Vogue. Marshall chose Off-White™, while Casteel's choice fell on Pyer Moss and the portrayal of Aurora James, a young black designer who had made headlines for the 15 Percent Pledge program, a campaign to support black-owned business. 

Vanity Fair's issue is even more special from its guest editor. The choice of all the content was in fact entrusted to Ta-Nehisi Coates, perhaps the black intellectual of reference in America, who for the cover chose the Baltimore painter, Amy Sherald. Sherald was also selected by Michelle Obama, for the commission of the traditional portrait that every First Lady (and President) leaves at the National Portrait Gallery. For Vanity Fair Sherald has created a painting of Breonna Taylor, with her usual aesthetic but choosing colors that almost blend with the portrait of Obama. 

The process of rapprochement by mainstream fashion media to the world of black art comes at the height of a time when the same brands - no matter whether black-owned or not - have been interested in telling one of the least explored sectors of modern art. Emblematic in this sense was the collaboration between Kim Jones and Dior and the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo for Spring 2021, in which Jones took inspiration from the works (especially the portraits) of Boafo for the realization of the entire collection of the maison.

The spotlight that superstars like Beyoncé or Virgil Abloh himself in the past years have shone on the world of black art have been functional to make the rest of the world tend to pay attention to the phenomenon, which has been seen to explode as a result of the peculiar historical moment that the fashion world goes through, intent on one side with the effects of a pandemic that promises to overwhelm forever the canons and on the other hand, with the endemic lack of diversity that is blamed on him. The media in this sense fit into the discussion, celebrating black art in a functional way to the story of current events, trying to legitimize its importance through two very modern numbers that could at the same time become historical.