Reviewed August 2016
Molly Schoen, Visual Resources Curator
Fashion Institute of Technology
Black Contemporary Art (BCA) is a Tumblr site founded in 2011 as “a place for art by and about people of African descent.” By focusing on a subject that is sorely under-represented in the art world, BCA is a valuable resource that shines a light on artists who are often marginalized or overlooked.
In terms of layout and functionality, Black Contemporary Art is similar to other Tumblr sites. Its blog-type format displays posts in chronological order, starting with the most recent. In true Tumblr fashion, the site is heavy with visuals with text limited to captions and quotations. “I want the works to speak for themselves,” says site founder Kimberly Drew, in a 2013 interview with web magazine Afropunk. This approach, Drew says, is different from other blogs focused on black artists, which tend to include more commentary.
Image quality on BCA is acceptable, with JPEGs in medium to large size, showing faithful reproductions of the artworks they represent. None of the visuals appeared to be watermarked, pixelated, cropped, or otherwise misconstrued. In most cases, images are at least partially attributed with the artist’s name, title, and year of creation. Other image captions also include media, dimensions, copyright holder, and a link back to the original source—but many posts do not. This may be problematic for researchers looking for more information or a higher-quality image of a featured artwork.
New posts are added frequently on BCA, at a minimum of several per week. Just about every form of contemporary visual art is covered, including paintings, photographs, sculpture, video, and more experimental practices. While most of the featured works are from the past decade, some date as far back as the early twentieth century, adding a rich history and contextual background.
The site also includes supplementary materials, from GIFs to poems to flyers, as well as media on related causes, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The site’s contributors, who come from various museum and artistic background, select the content although anyone can submit requests or ideas for future posts.
The intended audience for this website is anyone interested in contemporary art, black history, or news and events within the black American community. As such, it can be a great starting point for students looking for more information about the culture of the African diaspora. Many students are already familiar with the Tumblr platform and will find the BCA page easy to navigate. The website is openly accessible to anyone with internet access; however, in order to comment or otherwise interact with BCA, users must have a Tumblr account—which is free to sign up for.
While BCA functions excellently as a place to get started exploring areas related to black art, it is not a scholarly source for research purposes. The website’s contributors do occasionally post entries promoting their own endeavors, including solicitations for contributions to fundraising campaigns. Additionally, the site also “re-blogs” posts from other Tumblr pages. For those not very familiar with Tumblr, it can be difficult to spot which entries are original to BCA and which were created from a different, perhaps less reliable, blog.
In art-centric media outlets there remains, unfortunately, a great disparity in the coverage of minority artists compared to those of European descent. Black Contemporary Art on Tumblr addresses this head on, by joining other self-starting, community-based movements to document the lives of people of marginalized backgrounds. More than providing an overview of the subject after which it is named, Black Contemporary Art does the important work of documenting lesser-known artists for generations to come.