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How art can ignite social change

20 Black Artists to Watch

Mural Arts Philadelphia's Fellowship for Black Artists is funding work by 20 local creators. Here's who they are

20 Black Artists to Watch

Mural Arts Philadelphia's Fellowship for Black Artists is funding work by 20 local creators. Here's who they are

It’s no secret that the art scene in Philadelphia—and around the world—has suffered due to the pandemic. With public shows on hold and museums largely shuttered, artists worldwide lost the audience and clients who traditionally keep them afloat. And in Philly, the arts took a dramatic hit: The region’s arts and culture industry lost roughly $1 million in revenue every day between March 2020 and March 2021, according to a report from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, a projection that translates to about $371.7 million in total.

While organizations and individuals have tried to step up to fill this gap—namely Forman Arts Initiative, the new endeavor from Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice, and its recently-debuted Art Works initiative, a program with Philadelphia Foundation and Drexel University—there is so much more funding and support our artists need.

Recognizing that call, Mural Arts Philadelphia has, for the second year in a row, rolled out its Fellowship for Black Artists program to fund, foster and elevate the work of 20 Black artists residing within the City of Philadelphia. The organization, after all, operates on the belief that art ignites change, and subsequently promotes dialogue and understanding within communities. This year’s cohort is comprised of artists who work in a range of media, including painters, photographers, and filmmakers.

“After the uprisings happened last year we, like other organizations around Philadelphia and the country, took stock,” says MAP Executive Director Jane Golden. “This is no time to be complacent; it’s time to do our work with greater intentionality and rigor. We also know that this can’t be spin, can’t be of the moment; it’s part of our longer-term strategy.”

The Fellowship, sponsored by TD Bank, not only provides artists with $2,000 in unrestricted funding, but aims to generate exposure and opportunities for artists by highlighting their work through social media, in addition to involving them in international and local networks.

Fellows will receive financial planning sessions courtesy of TD Bank, as well as sessions with curators Conrad Benner of Streets Dept, Ginger Rudolph of HAHA Magazine, and Noah Smalls of Rush Arts Philadelphia.

Get to know these fellows igniting change below, with artwork samples and links to their Instagram accounts.

Keep an eye out for these exciting emerging Black artists in Philly

Caff Adeus (@cvffvdeus)

A work by Philadelphia artist Caff Adeus
Courtesy by Caff Adeus

Adeus’ bold work includes portrait photography, sculptures, and abstract paintings that explore Picasso’s dictum that “anyone can learn to paint, but it takes a lifetime to paint like a child.” Between mocking and challenging social constructs, he offers a front-row seat to a self-deprecating appraisal of himself as an art world outsider.

Wit López (@witnotwhit)

"Those Three Kings Over There" by Philadelphia artist Wit Lopez
“Those Three Kings Over There” by Wit Lopez

López is an internationally recognized, multidisciplinary maker, performance artist, writer, and cultural advocate based in Philadelphia. They are the Founder and Artistic Director of Till Arts Project, a grassroots arts services organization serving LGBTQ+ artists in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Mz. Icar (@mz.icar)

"See Me" mural by Philadelphia artist Mz Icar
“See Me” by Mz. Icar

Mz. Icar is an anonymous interdisciplinary artist. Her name is a palindrome of “racizm”. Her art celebrates women, global blackness, and play. She creates in the form of murals, mixed-media, textile, and photography, often combining the media. Her work explores histories and imagines the best-case scenario future from the perspective of women and people of color.

Kelli S. Williams (@Kshantee)

Williams is an animator, visual artist, and community artist based in Philadelphia, where she is an assistant professor at Moore College of Art & Design. She uses stop-motion animation, photography, installation, and humor to create work that comments on society through the lens of social media and technology. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Columbus Live, Hyperallergic, Artnet, and Baltimore Magazine.

Robert Carter (@rcarterphoto)

"Utajiri" by Philadelphia artist Robert Carter
“Utajiri” by Robert Carter

Carter is a full-time artist, with a background in music and poetry, working mainly in photography and specializing in commercial portraiture and figurative fine art. Some of the thematic elements found throughout his work include rich colors and painterly light, impactful storytelling through imagery, and a commitment to portraying his subjects—especially BIPOC, in elevated, radiant, and expansive ways.

Acori Honzo (@Acorihonzo)

A Marvin Gaye doll by Philadelphia artist Acori Honzo
Courtesy Acori Honzo

Honzo is a self-taught sculptor and painter, who counts Norman Rockwell and comic book artists like Alex Ross as influences. He approaches a wide scale of subjects, specifically pop culture, in a multi-layered way, in the spirit of engaging a wide audience.

Mikel Elam (@Mikelartist)

A work by Philadelphia artist Mikel Elam
Courtesy Mikel Elam

Elam is a native Philadelphian and painter. He attended the University of the Arts, receiving his BFA in painting, and has been showing his paintings in numerous gallery spaces nationally and internationally for the last 25 years.

Amiracle Campbell (@amiracleartistry)

Artwork by Philadelphia artist Amiracle Campbell
Courtesy Amiracle Campbell

Amir Campbell, known as Amiracle, is a multi-faceted creative. His work revolves around displaced identity and unity through the lens of integration and assimilation into American culture as an African American. Through his work, he communicates and forms relationships with his audience. Amiracle uses his subject matter to advance the opportunity to introduce them to the world of artistic expression. His ultimate vision is to blend the worlds of fine art with street art.

Rachael Moton (@jawncassavetes)

Rachael Moton is a writer, director and self-described “failed internet comedian.” She earned a BFA in film with a concentration in directing from Temple University. Her work has been supported by various organizations, including Sundance Institute, SFFILM, The Westridge Foundation, and The Gotham. As a storyteller, Rachael is passionate about sharing stories of marginalized people with the goal of promoting empathy, usually by utilizing comedy.

Kenyssa Evans (@kensayhi)

A work by Kenyssa Evans, Philadelphia artist
Courtesy Kenyssa Evans

Kenyssa Evans is an interdisciplinary artist who highlights spatial narratives that are both personal and universal, through the lens of Black life. She received her BFA in Photography and Digital Arts with a minor in Curatorial Studies from Moore College of Art and Design in 2020.

Khalif Rivers (@kriversphoto)

Photography by Philadelphia artist Khalif Rivers
Courtesy Khalif Rivers

Philadelphia native Khalif Rivers is a self-taught photographer and writer interested in capturing the remnants of “Old Philadelphia” and uncovering its rich past. His love for the city’s unique industrial and residential architecture drives his work, with the intent of resonating with former and current Philadelphians.

Anthony Folks (@b.c.e_saboteur)

Collage 7 by Philadelphia artist Anthony Folks
“Collage 7” by Anthony Folks

Folks is a visual artist most known for his collage works on paper. He received his BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) before completing his master’s degree program in Art Education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). As his collage work continues to evolve, he is currently inspired by Kuba Cloth patterns and designs. His recent exhibitions include: CONNECT at South Shore Arts and the 2019 8th Annual Invitational Exhibition: Friends and Neighbors at AIRSPACE.

Emilio Maldonado (@scottico12)

Artwork by Philadelphia artist Emilio Maldonado
Courtesy Emilio Maldonado

Maldonado is an Afro-Caribbean artist living in Philadelphia. He graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with an MFA in Painting in 2013, from Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico with a BFA in Painting in 2011, and from Altos de Chavon in the Dominican Republic with an AAS in Fine Arts and Illustration. His art has been featured at group and solo shows both locally and abroad. Most recently, Maldonado’s work appeared in Vox Populi’s Make/Shift in Philadelphia.

Steven Cooper (@Mr_konceptz)

Entity by Philadelphia artist Steven Cooper
“Entity” by Steven Cooper

Steven Cooper is an artist who specializes in photography, video, and graphic design. When creating art pieces, he takes his own photos from his archive and “enhances” them. Starting photography in late 2010, in 2017 Steven shifted into the art space by participating in various shows around Philadelphia and elsewhere in the country.

Dara Haskins (@artqueendee)

A painting by Dara Haskins
“Are You Listening” by Dara Haskins

Haskins has rooted her practice in Philadelphia, receiving her BFA at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2019. Her works consist of oil portraits, figurative oil and mixed media paintings. She addreses, and challnges the ways the Black body has been represented and looked at throughout history. *Are you listening.

Arthur Haywood (@arthurhaywood)

The World of Reading by Arthur Haywood
“The World of Reading” by Arthur Haywood

Haywood’s passion is “painting to engage youth in reading.” His paintings were published in his book, The Great Library, and featured in Space and Time Magazine. He has completed murals for Mural Arts Philadelphia and Elkins Park School, and received a Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship at Fondation Des États-Unis in Paris, where he is currently working on murals that depict diverse students looking into scenes from fantasy books to inspire them to read.

Andrea Walls (@urbanarchivist)

Walls is a multidisciplinary artist, informed and inspired by the writers and visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement. Her writing, scholarship, and visual art have been recognized by organizations including the Leeway Foundation, The Colored Girls Museum, Writers Room at Drexel University, Studio Museum of Harlem, The Women’s Mobile Museum, and FabYouth Philly. She is the creator and curator of the interactive web experiences, The Museum of Black Joy, The D’Archive, and The Black Body Curve.

Lindsay Bedford (@truthonthewind)

NFT Zone by Philadelphia artist Lindsay Bedford
“NFT Zone” by Lindsay Bedford

Bedford is a spatial storyteller and communications strategist passionate about the power of design and its ability to create change in her community. She is a 2021 graduate of Drexel University, earning an MS in interior architecture and design. Bedford’s graduate thesis explored the role of the museum in the 21st century and how design can be utilized to create a more equitable and culturally responsive art museum, specifically in an underserved community in Philadelphia.

Ken Johnston

A work on a porch by Ken Johnston
Courtesy Ken Johnston

Ken Johnston is a Philadelphia-based walking artist who responds to the call of social change and history by walking to put “movement” back in the civil rights movement. In 2018, he completed a 400-mile solo walking journey for MLK50, from Selma, Alabama, to Memphis, Tennessee, visiting the many places Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been. When Johnston is not walking, he enjoys planning public “lantern” events while researching his next adventure.

Taj DeVore-Bey (@tajdevore)

2A7 by Philadelphia artist Taj DeVore-Bey
“2A7” by Taj DeVore-Bey

DeVore-Bey is a filmmaker from Philadelphia. Through his body of work, he aims to leave his viewers with a sense of perspective. He is inspired by directors such as Spike Lee, Terrence Malick, and Ava DuVernay and cinematographers such as Bradford Young, Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki, and Ernest Dickerson.

Header photo courtesy sculpture artist Acori Honzo

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