Contemporary Black Artists
at Harvard Business School

Opens February 2021

Online Exhibition

This online exhibition highlights works of art from the HBS Art and Artifacts Collection and Schwartz Art Collection by Hurvin Anderson, Philip Kwame Apagya, Radcliffe Bailey, Rico Gatson, Tomashi Jackson, Whitfield Lovell, Lorraine O’ Grady, and Carrie Mae Weems. These diverse works by Black artists explore a range of themes, including the role of the artist in society, history, memory, civil rights, identity, and belonging. As part of Harvard Business School’s commitment to promoting racial equity, Contemporary Black Artists at Harvard Business School is meant to inspire both dialogue and change.

In a 2015 essay, writer Toni Morrison called for action, and her appeal takes on even more urgency in 2021: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.” Indeed, it is time to get to work, and art can provide a place to start.

Click on the images below for more information about each work in the online exhibition.

Exhibition curated by Melissa Renn, Collections Manager, HBS Art and Artifacts Collection.

Virtual Tour

Margaritas, 2014 Francis, 1996/2003 Astro Beeing, 1995 Untitled (Three Diamonds), 2016 Sideways/Side Eye (Peach Shape), 2018 Strive, 2000 Four photographs from the series, Art Is..., 1983/2009 Untitled from The Louisiana Project, 2003

(British, born 1965)
Margaritas, 2014
Woodblock and screen print
HBS Art and Artifacts Collection, 2015.1
© 2021 Hurvin Anderson

Born in Birmingham, England, to Jamaican parents, Hurvin Anderson’s experience as a Black artist living in England has shaped much of his work. In his print Margaritas from the Welcome Series, Anderson grapples with his dual identity as both British and Jamaican. While at first glance this work may appear abstract, it is filled with many references to Jamaica and also to Trinidad, where he was an artist-in-residence in 2002. In Margaritas, the maroon lines represent a type of security grille used frequently on homes and businesses throughout the islands. The grille obscures and separates the viewer from the tropical images and colorful Caribbean scenes suspended in the background. A moving meditation on belonging and the challenge of reconnecting with one’s roots, this work expresses the artist’s feelings of living between two places. As Anderson stated in a 2020 Art Newspaper interview: “What is art for? For filling in the gaps. Some things can’t be said or explained but only expressed, and for that art will always be an essential part of communication, of passing on truths and memories and what it means to be human.”

(Ghanaian, born 1958)
Francis, 1996/2003
Chromogenic print
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2004.4
© 2021 Philip Kwame Apagya

Philip Kwame Apagya studied photojournalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. In 1982, he opened his own studio in Shama, on the west coast of Ghana. For his studio portraits, Apagya photographs his subject in front of a painted backdrop he constructs that portrays the sitter’s aspirations. Apagya explains: “I have always tried to find out what my clients like best, what they dream of, what they desire, their aspirations—particularly for the future: love, job, prosperity, a home of their own, everything that is prestigious and beautiful. I cannot but repeat that beauty is our business.” In this photograph, a boy named Francis pretends to lean against a painted image of a wooden entertainment center filled with books, speakers, a television, and electronics. At left is a painted image of a fully stocked refrigerator. Apagya’s works are both a contemplation of contemporary consumer culture and a reflection on the relationship between art and artifice, dreams and reality.

(American, born 1968)
Astro Beeing, 1995
Acrylic and tar on wood
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 1995.5
© 2021 Radcliffe Bailey

Born in New Jersey, Radcliffe Bailey moved to Atlanta, Georgia, when he was four. There he frequently visited the High Museum of Art with his mother. “While I am influenced by historic figures that have transformed and changed the world,” Bailey notes, “I am also influenced by family members, by my mother, my children, and my grandparents. My mother was quietly creating experiences for me to make art when I was a child. She was my first art teacher and is, today, my most important critic. She introduced me to museums at a young age, allowing for my first encounters with African art, with the art of James van der Zee and Jacob Lawrence, for example.” In his mixed-media assemblages, such as Astro Beeing shown here, and Minor (also in the Schwartz Art Collection) Bailey nestles nineteenth-century tintypes and found objects within expressive layers of paint to explore the merging of Black identity, African American history, and cultural memory. As he stated in a 2018 artnet interview, “I feel like I always have a foot back in time.” By bringing the past into dialogue with the present, Bailey both addresses history and promotes healing through art.


(American, born 1966)
Untitled (Three Diamonds), 2016
Acrylic paint and spray paint on wood
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2017.1
© 2021 Rico Gatson

Born in Augusta, Georgia, Rico Gatson received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Bethel College in 1989 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale School of Art in 1991. In Untitled (Three Diamonds), Gatson uses diamond shapes to frame three historical images: a group of women picking cotton, a street view of buildings burning in Watts, Los Angeles, in 1965, and members of the Black Panthers protesting in the late 1960s. In the artist’s words, “The textured diamond pattern reverberates from the center of the painting to the edge portraying the journey of experience from enslavement and rebellion to protest and beyond.” Gatson uses such bold radiating patterns and shapes to draw the viewer into the work. As he has stated, “I’m always interested in seducing the viewer and then hitting them on the way out, allowing a delayed response to powerfully charged content.”  Gatson, who currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, works in a range of media, and recently was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York to do a series of glass mosaics celebrating Black and Latino figures—including Celia Cruz, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Reggie Jackson, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor—for the 167th Street subway station in the Bronx. Gatson is inspired by African art, conceptualism, and performance art, and many of his works also incorporate the palette and patterns of Pan-Africanism, such as his Panel Painting #6 in the Schwartz Art Collection.

(American, born 1980)
Sideways/Side Eye (Peach Shape), 2018
Silkscreen, oil, and acrylic on gauze, canvas, and paper
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2018.2
© 2021 Tomashi Jackson

Born in Houston, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles, Tomashi Jackson lives and works in New York and Cambridge, and is the Visiting Lecturer on Art, Film, and Visual Studies at Harvard University in Spring 2021. Her work was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and her practice brings together painting, printmaking, and archival research. As a student at Yale University, Jackson became intrigued by Josef Albers’s work on color perception, and found that the language Albers used in his writings on color theory echoed the language of educational policies, racial segregation, and civil rights court case transcripts. As she has said, “Color theory and human rights are conceptually interwoven in my paintings. … I find the language comparisons appropriate metaphors for a critique of racism rather than a critique of categories of race.” In this multimedia work, Jackson employs color and collage to investigate the value of human life in public space. The silkscreened documentary images and photographs are from her research into the history of transportation in the greater region of Atlanta, Georgia, and are based on ideas expressed in historian Kevin M. Kruse’s 2007 book White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.

(American, born 1959)
Strive, 2000
Charcoal on wood with found objects
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2001.12
© 2021 Whitfield Lovell. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York

The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and internationally renowned for his mixed-media installations that feature conté crayon and charcoal portraits of anonymous African Americans, Whitfield Lovell explores themes such as memory, identity, ancestry, and American history in his works. In Strive, Lovell used an image from his personal archive of family, vintage, and historical photographs as the source for his expressive drawing of a seated woman, which is rendered on found wood planks and surrounded by sets of actual boxing gloves. Lovell’s works such as Strive and prints including Barbados (also in the Schwartz Art Collection) bring the past into the present. He describes his aim as an artist: “I want to evoke the sense of place, [so one is] able to feel the spirit of the past for a moment, to feel the presence of these people. I want it to be a kind of ancestor worship. I want beliefs to be handed down.”

(American, born 1934)
Four photographs from the series, Art Is…, 1983/2009
Chromogenic prints
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2016.5-8
© 2021 Lorraine O’Grady / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Art Is… (Star East Monuments), 1983/2009 (top left)
Art Is… (Women in Crowd Framed), 1983/2009 (top right)
Art Is… (Young Women Leaning on Barrier), 1983/2009 (lower left)
Art Is… (Dancer in Grass Skirt), 1983/2009 (lower right)

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to West Indian parents, conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady received a BA from Wellesley College. These four photographs are from one of O’Grady’s most celebrated performances, Art Is..., which came about because of this comment made to her by an acquaintance: “Avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with Black people.” In response, O’Grady decided to create a work of art for the largest Black space she could think of, the African American Day Parade in Harlem, New York. She entered a float with the words “Art Is...” painted on the platform’s gold skirt. On top of the float, she mounted a 9 x 15-foot gilded frame, built with the help of artists Richard DeGussi and George Mingo. As the float moved down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, O’Grady’s fifteen collaborators, seen here dressed in white, invited people to pose in the empty gilded picture frames they carried. Onlookers became participants in both the parade and the work of art, many exclaiming, as the frames and float passed by: “Make me art!” and “We’re the art!” These photographs are not only documents of the event, but also compelling reminders of the power and joy of art.



(American, born 1953)
Untitled from The Louisiana Project, 2003
Chromogenic print
Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2004.15
© 2021 Carrie Mae Weems

One of the most influential American artists in the contemporary art world, Carrie Mae Weems investigates family, gender, identity, race, sexism, class, politics, and power in her art. This photograph is from her series The Louisiana Project, commissioned in 2003 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. In this series she uses photography, narrative, and video to delve into the social history of the Louisiana Purchase, casting herself in the image as a silent witness. In 2013, Weems received a MacArthur Fellowship as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2015 she was the recipient of the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal at Harvard. In a New York Times review, critic Holland Cotter wrote, “Ms. Weems is what she has always been, a superb image maker and a moral force, focused and irrepressible.” The Schwartz Art Collection contains three other notable works by Weems: two photographs from her renowned Kitchen Table Series (2002.14 and 2002.15), and a work from 2003 titled Hush of Our Silence.


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