Incredible Women. Incredible Fashion. Every Day.

Porter
Culture

3 thought-provoking artists on their most compelling works

A catalyst for change, a cathartic expression and an enduring reminder – art is a formidable force in times of struggle, tragedy, hope and awakening. For Black History Month, three artists share the compelling works they have created in the past year and the inspirations and influences behind them

Lifestyle

Monica Ahanonu

“The art I have been creating over the past year has been very intentional, with the goal of uplifting people’s spirits and connecting people to the present moment to realize the impact of what we’re living through.

“I was inspired to create the George Floyd piece because of the impact his death had on the Black community. The world seemed to stop and the various distractions we typically have were erased; this forced everyone from all walks of life to pay more attention and learn about the injustices that [are] still going on in our society. Typically, my illustrations of historical figures are memories I only know through books and movies, but this piece was done in real time [while] these historical events were occurring.

“The second piece embodies the energy and positivity I was trying to keep internally while working in quarantine. Though I am introvert, I wasn’t used to sitting with my thoughts without specific weekly distractions. As seen in this second piece, I kept myself inspired by adding more variety of color throughout my space.”

Monica Ahanonu is an illustrator based in LA. Her third illustrated book, ICONS: 50 Heroines Who Shaped Contemporary Culture, was released in 2020.

Monica Ahanonu in a Wolk Morais silk ruffled dress. Photo by Shelby Goldstein
Monica Ahanonu’s George Floyd tribute, created in 2020
Quarantine Day Dreaming with Adobe Fresco by Monica Ahanonu
The art I have been creating over the past year has been very intentional, with the goal of uplifting people’s spirits and connecting people to the present moment to realize the impact of what we’re living through

Sungi Mlengeya

“My art this year has been a deeper exploration of myself and the workings of my surroundings. I’ll be taking a more focus-centered but fluid approach in what I create in order to extensively inquire into my themes and hopefully enrich my understanding in the process.

“Kaa is Swahili for sit. With the pose my subject is in, I imagine a young woman who has been summoned by her mother; she’s been told to ‘kaa’, which is an indicator that a serious talk is about to happen. She is sitting on the floor of their veranda with her mother or elder, listening to them speak; she’s being instructed on the ways of life for a young woman like herself in her community.

“This time she’s listening to words of wisdom; old stories of how her pioneers navigated life, and encouragement for her, too, to follow her own dreams.

“This work, for me, is a contemplation of the power of what we teach, and its influence in molding a society.”

Sungi Mlengeya is a self-taught Tanzanian painter. Last year, her work featured in Christie’s 1-54 Highlights exhibition, 1-54 New York Online Edition and Cape Town Art Fair.

Kaa by Sungi Mlengeya
Artist Sungi Mlengeya
This work, for me, is a contemplation of the power of what we teach, and its influence in molding a society
Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self

“The figures I create in my work are all imaginary people in imaginary scenarios, but I draw from lived experiences and memories. Many of my subjects are inspired by people I have encountered or seen in the neighborhoods I have lived in, both in Harlem and New Haven. The content in the work generally relates to the existential concerns of the subjects within the paintings.

“I articulate the complex interiority of my characters through the multiplicity of materials used to articulate their exterior forms. The artwork that I have been creating this past year deals specifically with the significance and unique qualities inherent to Black American identity. My work functions as both celebration and critique towards the ultimate goal of greater understanding.”

Tschabalala Self is an artist based in New Haven. Her solo exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art opens at the end of March.

The artwork that I have been creating this past year deals specifically with the significance and unique qualities inherent to Black American identity
Artwork by Tschabalala Self, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown