African Americans have long been sidelined from historical art collections in world-renowned museums, galleries, and auctions. All the while, black art, beauty, and culture continue to be appropriated and depreciated. However, Kiana Calder is on a mission to change that narrative by giving up-and-coming black artists the recognition they deserve.
In February, the Bronx native ended Black History Month by providing artists of color with a platform to showcase and sell their work and merchandise. Held on February 28 at the Crossing Art Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, the Unapologetic Art Expo celebrated and honored the long legacy of black art and the new artists making a splash in their local communities. As an art lover, Calder launched the annual event in 2019 as a way to foster and further the careers of emerging artists and curators. Her motivation was triggered by the lack of diversity she noticed at The Armory Show in 2018, which attracts an influx of international art enthusiasts.
“I noticed that there was a lack of black and brown people within the crowd, and also [a lack of] black or brown artists as well,” she told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “I wanted to solve that problem by having my own platform where those artists get the recognition they rightly deserve and get to monetize their art.”
In addition to giving artists a platform, Calder selected black vendors to supply food and drinks for the event. “It’s all black everything,” she said. “Guests are being introduced to black vendors that they don’t even know exist.” She added, “That’s a huge factor because we’re giving everyone the opportunity to expand their brand and their business.”
Another driving factor of the event is helping artists generate revenue. “Less than 3% of museum acquisitions over the past decade have been of works of African American artists,” she said. Even at the National Gallery of Art, there are only 986 works by black artists out of the 153,621 total works. Meanwhile, The Met has only hosted eight exhibitions focused on African American artists in the past 10 years despite the fact the museum curates about 40 exhibitions every year. “For some strange reason, we’re always pushed in the back. And other people are able to come in and appropriate from our culture and benefit from it.”
Creatives also face barriers when it comes to getting exposure since many art exhibits charge artists to showcase their work and then take a percentage of their earnings after the event. Calder, however, doesn’t charge artists to participate in the Unapologetic Art Expo and only collects a mere fraction of the percentage that most exhibits take.
To help artists earn a living, she also encourages them not to undervalue their work. “I’ve noticed they’re extremely talented and they’re willing to negotiate the value of their art,” she said. “And it’s like, no, you don’t need to do that.”
Furthermore, in addition to her annual exhibit, Calder launched an online marketplace on her website. “This is a great opportunity for people to purchase art from our featured artists, especially with how creatives are being impacted right now,” she said.
“It’s imperative to continue to celebrate these artists because they’re entrepreneurs that rely on us to survive. We all have to do our part to make them feel supported.”