Samella Lewis, the artist, historian, and author known for her captivating visual print work has died.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the activist and legendary curator passed away from renal failure at the age of 99 on May 27.
Lewis was best known for her figurative work on paper that included lithographs and detailed screen prints of images depicting the Black American experience.
In her 1968 piece, Field a man stands in the middle of a vast field with his arms raised in the air as he clenches his hand into a tight fist. Lewis refers to the plight of slaves and migrant workers in the outstanding painting. Another drawing, “Shout” captures Black men and women praying in a church. One man stands with his arms raised as if he’s catching the holy spirit.
Throughout her career, Lewis, who has also been called the “Godmother of African American Art,” published groundbreaking books showcasing a wealth of Black artists including 20th-century sculptor Elizabeth Catlett. The revolutionary artist, who was also Lewis’s mentor, was known for creating beautiful images of Black women that depicted their power and grace.
Lewis was also the mastermind behind the Art: African American history book that was released in 1978 but later revised in 2003 as the “African American Art and Artist.” The book became a key text used to document the history of Black art in the United States.
In the early 1970s, the icon played an integral role in the Los Angeles art scene as the manager of both Multi Cul and the Gallery, two important community spaces for burgeoning artists in the city.
In 1976, Lewis founded the Museum of African American Art to increase public awareness and support for African American art. The museum has displayed work from notable Black artists such as sculptor Richmond Barthé and painter Faith Ringgold.
Lewis helped to inspire and mentor other artists throughout her incredible life.
In 1970, the New Orleans native was appointed professor of art history and humanities at Scripps College in Claremont, where she became the first tenured African American faculty member.
She also spent five years as the chair of Florida A&M University’s fine arts department. In 1993, the legendary artist was awarded the Charles White Lifetime Achievement honor for her timeless work. She was also the recipient of the UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts in 1995.
“Art is a language like poetry, evoking sensitivities and memories,” Lewis told The LA Times that year. “Art really helps to speak to the past, present and to a large extent helps to guide you into the future.”
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