Black Portraiture

April 01, 2024

Black Portraiture

Images (left to right)
Untitled, Hubert Massey, acrylic on canvas, ca. 1985, 2001.038.1
Taken For Granted: Black Queen, Markeyna Jefferson, photograph, 2018, 2018.82.3
Untitled (Portrait of a Man), Wilson’s Sunbeam Gallery, carte de visite, ca. 1890, 2021.33.434
Jaylei Art, Jamari Taylor, digital art, 2018, 2019.59.1
Untitled (Portrait of a Woman), Artist Unknown, real photo postcard, 1918, 2021.33.759
Polka Dot Portrait, Sheefy McFly, 14-color screen print, 2021, 2023.19.9


To be able to see a representation of oneself is empowering. To see representation in an institution that is dedicated to displaying and preserving artistically and culturally significant objects is affirming.

For years it was rare to see portraits of Black people in museums, galleries, and arts organizations. Historically, these institutions did not make a concerted effort to collect work by black artists, or portraits of Black people. The depictions that were collected typically placed black people in the role of slaves or servants. Not until the late 1800s with the advent of photography and the increasing availability of portraiture, did we begin to see a growing number of depictions of Black individuals. And not until the beginning of the 21st century did institutions begin to seriously address this inequity by acquiring more work by Black artists and portraits.

How can institutions that have a responsibility to display and preserve our collective past and present, continue to rectify the imbalance of black portraiture in collections? We must take an active role in collecting the Black image, supporting Black artists, and embracing black culture and identity.


Hubert Massey

Massey, who graduated from GVSU in 1983, went on to study at the University of London, Slade Institute of Fine Arts, where he learned the art of fresco from former assistants of legendary artist Diego Rivera. A Detroit, Michigan resident, Massey’s bold, vibrant images and fresco murals can be spotted throughout the Detroit metropolitan region. Massey’s artistic contributions to his city inspire his community, especially Detroit’s youth. GVSU is home to the mural, “Michigan Outreach: Evolving the Global Spirit,” located in the L. William Seidman Center on Pew campus. For this mural, Massey guided students from the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies, in a year-long project, helping them create this massive work of art. Funding for this project was supported by the GVSU Charter Schools Office.

Explore more artwork by Hubert Massey.


Markeyna Jefferson

Markeyna Jefferson graduated from GVSU with a BS in photography in 2018. Jefferson explains, "As a Black female photographer with a passion for social justice, I try my best to use my platform to display the African American community in a positive light. I photograph portraits that convey how Black individuals turn their pain caused by institutionalized racism into inner beauty, confidence, and success."

Explore more artwork by Markeyna Jefferson.


Historical Photographs

The growth of photography in the 19th and 20th centuries offered greater access to portraiture for all members of society. The Untitled (Portrait of a Man) is a cartes de visite or visiting card, which was an albumen print glued to a paper card the size of a traditional visiting card and popularized in the late 19th century. The Untitled (Portrait of a Woman) is a real photo postcard, popular through the first three decades of the 20th century. It was a photograph printed on postcard stock that allowed sitters to send their portraits to family and friends directly through the mail.

Explore other carte de visite, real photo postcards, and other early forms of photography.


Jamari Taylor

Jamari Taylor is a portrait artist from Battle Creek, Michigan, a 2019 graduate of GVSU, and currently an art teacher for Kent County Juvenile Center in Grand Rapids. Taylor describes that “using charcoal, acrylics, and oils, she creates images that portray a sitter’s character, power, and strength.” After starting her art business Jaylei Art, Taylor created a foundation that she uses to uplift the community through art-based projects.

Explore more work by Jamari Taylor and Jaylei Art.


Sheefy McFly

Based in Detroit, Michigan, Tashif “Sheefy McFly” Turner has quickly become one of the most commercially successful artists, muralists, rappers, and DJs of his generation. His paintings and prints, inspired by his graffiti-based practice, are a dialogue between the traditional artistic influences of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, and his African American heritage and Detroit placemaking practice.

Explore more work by Sheefy McFly.


Share this news story

View More Blog

Page last modified April 1, 2024