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4 mins read

The Kinsey Collection: Unearthing Black History Through Art & Artifact

For over five decades, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, alongside their son Khalil, have woven together a remarkable tapestry of African American history and culture: The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

The kinsey collection
Bernard and Shirley Kinsey (Artis Lane 2002)

The Kinsey Collection, encompassing over 25,000 objects, stands as one of the most comprehensive of its kind globally. It’s a testament to the Kinseys’ unwavering passion for preserving and showcasing the triumphs and struggles of Black America across time.

the kinsey collection
The Negro Motorist Green Book (Victor H. Green 1941)

The Kinseys weren’t simply accumulating artifacts; they were embarking on a mission to ensure these stories were never forgotten. Their dedication is evident in the collection’s diversity.

Renowned works by Elizabeth Catlett, Alma Thomas, and Jacob Lawrence share space with lesser-known but equally significant pieces. Everyday objects, captivating photographs, and historical documents offer a poignant glimpse into the lives of ordinary Black Americans throughout the centuries.

the kinsey collection
First Colored Senator and Representatives In the 41st Congress of the United States

Unearthing Gems: The Kinsey Acquisition Process

The Kinseys’ approach to collecting wasn’t confined to auction houses or galleries. They actively sought out pieces with personal connections, sometimes unearthing hidden treasures in unexpected places.

A poignant example is a rare first-edition book of poems by Phillis Wheatley. The Kinseys acquired this piece from a descendant of the Wheatley family, ensuring its legacy would continue to inspire.

Their passion for discovery also led them to scour antique shops and flea markets. A keen eye for detail helped them identify a simple yet powerful artifact – a hand-stitched quilt from the Underground Railroad era. This piece, likely a conductor’s map, speaks volumes about the ingenuity and resilience of enslaved people during their fight for freedom.

A Legacy Shared with the World

The Kinseys haven’t limited the impact of their collection. They actively share it with the world through traveling exhibitions. Witnessed by over 15 million people globally, The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection serves as a powerful educational resource.

It creates a deeper understanding of African American history and culture, inspiring dialogue and igniting a sense of appreciation for the enduring spirit of Black America.

The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection is a monumental tribute to the African American experience. Through their dedication and passion, the Kinsey family has not only preserved a legacy but has also ignited a deeper understanding and appreciation for Black history and culture across the globe.



Discussing what one of the world’s largest private collections of Black art and historical objects is doing at one of the world’s grandest football stadiums — and why it matters.

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9 mins read

Capturing Culture: Photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn’s Lens on Identity and Change

Meet Laylah Amatullah Barrayn—a photographer and author ignited by her family’s photo album and mentored by luminaries like Jamel Shabazz and Dr. Deborah Willis. Inspired by their purposeful storytelling, she wields her camera as a force for change.

In this interview, Laylah shares her thoughts on the transformative power of photography, challenges stereotypes, and unveils her latest project, “Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hip Hop Culture,” reflecting her commitment to celebrating narratives within the Black diaspora.

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
Installation photographs from Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hiphop Culture, on view at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery at Harvard University. Photo by Anthony Artis

What drew you to the world of photography? 

I was drawn to the photograph from my family photo album. I saw the power in our family photographs early on because those images were able to convey ​so much about building and refining my own identity as a first generation New Yorker via the Great American Migration. I was drawn to photography by the robust community that I encountered as a young person in New York City.

I saw masters in action, who embraced me and guided me, photographers like Jamel Shabazz, Dr. Deborah Willis, and Chester Higgins.​ They worked with a clear purpose to share the strength, vast history, culture, and beauty of our community. These photographers worked with authenticity and integrity. It has been so inspiring how they used their cameras to positively influence the world in which we live. 

In what ways do you think photography can be a tool for challenging stereotypes and promoting cultural understanding, especially concerning marginalized communities?

Photography can be used as a catalyst for change when marginalized communities reclaim their narratives through the lens of their own. ​Through our own ‘gaze’ we can define ourselves through sharing first-person accounts that are rooted in lived experiences, tradition, and culture. ​

It is also powerful when we establish platforms such as SHOPPE BLACK when we self-publish and create other initiatives to share our stories. And even though we don’t own the major social media platforms, using them strategically can draw attention to stories and perspectives that have not been amplified, which can in turn contribute to more inclusive storytelling.

Could you share the significance of this latest project, “Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hiphop Culture,” in the context of your body of work?

​Most of my work has been storytelling through documentary photography​ and essay writing, this is where I’ve delved into narratives, communities, and traditions within the Black diaspora. ​My work has appeared in publications like The New York Times, Ebony, and National Geographic.

My work has also been included in a number of books on photography. In 2017, I ​co-authored “MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora”, ​this project ​presented the ideas, perspectives, and experiences ​of African and Black diasporic women photographers. My most recent book is “We Are Present.”

I’ve also curated exhibitions, another form of storytelling. My current curatorial project, “Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hip Hop Culture,” explores the friendship and artistic partnership between two iconic hip-hop artists, Ice-T and DJ Africa Islam. By delving into their archives, we gain insight into the early days of hip hop, witnessing its evolution and the experiences of its pioneers as they laid the foundation for the culture.

Rapper/Actor Ice T speaks with Day One DNA curator Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr at the Copper Gallery. Credit: Anthony Artis

“Day One DNA” serves as both an exhibition and archival project, aligning with my broader exploration of the contributions of the Black diaspora. Hip hop, as a cultural phenomenon, emerges from the collaborative efforts of individuals across Caribbean, Latino, and African-American communities, shaping the dynamic art form and culture that we now have come to know and appreciate as hip hop.

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
Installation photographs from Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hiphop Culture, on view at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery at Harvard University. Photo by Anthony Artis

Could you highlight some of the standout artifacts or elements within the exhibition that hold particular significance for you or tell compelling stories?

The exhibition has over 200 artifacts. As a photographer, I loved going through the photo albums, and handling prints from the ‘70s and ’80s that developed from film. Many of these photos are candid moments of Ice T and DJ Afrika Islam on tour with artists like KRS-One and Biz Markie. “Day One DNA” features over 800 vinyl pieces, including first-run records by iconic artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. These records laid the foundation for DJs and producers to some of the most classic hip hop tracks.

The clothing is another favorite, black leather medallions—a staple from the ‘80s—and an array of custom-made jackets and suits. Additionally, shirts and sweaters from iconic hip hop brands like FUBU and Karl Kani. One of my favorite pieces in the show is a custom-made “tuxedo” jacket made from African wax print, showcasing a portrait of Malcolm X. This commemorative piece resonates so deeply, it shows the legacy of our “shining Black prince” endures through music, hip hop lyrics, and even through fashion. It’s definitely one of my favorite pieces in the exhibition.

What do you hope visitors will take away from experiencing this exhibition, both in terms of knowledge and emotional impact?

I want visitors to develop a deep appreciation for the foundational elements of hip hop. I want visitors to be inspired by the creative, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive inherent in the culture. I want visitors to leave feeling empowered to create something unique, taking pride in the grassroots cultures and communities they belong to. Also, I hope they feel motivated to initiate or build their own archives and encourage family and community members to join in. Last but not least, I want viewers to recognize that an institution alone does not legitimize a culture or archive a tradition.

What advice would you give to aspiring Black women photographers who aim to carve their path in the world of photography and visual arts?

This is advice I’d offer to anyone, with a particular emphasis on young black women photographers and creatives: you don’t have to settle. Seek out collaborators and institutions that are genuinely excited, not begrudgingly or lukewarm, about working with you. There is an abundance of eager collaborators who exist and they are ready to support and assist you in realizing your vision and dreams. If you encounter the smallest signs of disrespect, don’t hesitate—walk away, or better yet, run as fast as you can!

📸 Cover image credit: Malik J. Glover

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18 mins read

Importing African Art to Cultivate Black-Affirming Aesthetics

Tanaiia Hall is the co-founder of B1 Art Imports, a Black-owned business that imports high-quality African art from multiple countries on the Continent.

In this interview, she discusses her passion for showcasing the beauty of the African diaspora through art, her commitment to sourcing authentic and unique pieces, and the significance of Black-affirming aesthetics.

African Art
Tanaiia Hall

How did your love for art and the African diaspora inspire you to create B1 Art?

Growing up, my mother’s diverse creative interests, including sewing, clay sculpting, modeling, hairstyling, and cooking, nurtured my talent and deepened my passion for the arts.

In 2021, I made a decision to dive into the world of art collecting, with a focus on Black art. As fate would have it, my partner and I met a Black art collector who was interested in adding more African art to his collection and we collectively thought about where, of all the countries we had visited, we might focus our efforts on importing art.

The essence of the African diaspora, its vibrant colors, powerful imagery, and universal energy, resonates with people from all walks of life. Personally, having traveled across North America, Africa, and various diasporic communities, I’ve encountered individuals who resemble me. These experiences deepened my sense of connection but also taught me that not everyone shares the same perspective. My appreciation for my Black heritage began at home and has grown as I delve into our history and accomplishments.

Both sides of my family were part of the “Great Migration,” relocating from the South to the North and West. Reflecting on their resilience in establishing successful businesses from scratch in Los Angeles County and West Oakland fills me with immense pride. It reinforces my respect for all Black individuals who have overcome the legacy of slavery and displacement.

I’ve observed commonalities in our hair, food, music, and expressions across different Black communities, fostering a sense of connection and shared understanding. As I’ve matured, I’ve become even more committed to prioritizing “us” in how I shape my life, do business, and spend my money. Contributing to the wealth of fellow Black individuals brings me immeasurable joy.

What is the significance of having Black-affirming aesthetics in the home?

To me, having Black-affirming aesthetics in the home is a must, if you are Black. I suspect that some people are on autopilot and don’t realize how certain things in their homes may be draining their energy and that is easy to do. 

There are so many things that decorated the collective family houses that I fondly remember from my childhood that I associate with “being Black”. When talking to others and comparing notes about the décor they had growing up that we also had feels comforting for some reason.  These things were probably not made by black people and were not worth much but by virtue of being in a lot of Black homes, they became part of the shared experience. 

Recently,  I saw on a program on YouTube, the host said that he sits in the dark in an all-Black room to recharge his energy and that was profound to me.  From being suspended in the dark in utero to sleeping in the dark at night, all Black has always been supportive of our well-being.  After hearing that and seeing some home décor shows featuring Black people with themes of Black-affirming aesthetics, I set an intention to make sure that my space was not by accident and that it was a celebration of and invitation to my ancestors. 

Life can be emotionally challenging outside of your doors so, I am a firm believer in your home being a sanctuary, safe and comfortable.  I saw a documentary about a Black art collector whose home is basically a gallery of Black art. He said that every Black person should own a piece of Black art.  I did not think about that before but, when he said that, I agreed with it. There are a lot of people who have homes that depict images of and things made by others and of people who hate them yet, they are confused about why the energy in their home is “challenging” and unsupportive. 

Whether you make it yourself, buy Black art from Etsy or Ross, or own a Bisa Butler or Ernie Barnes, we have to be conscious of how much of ourselves may not be in what we purchase to style our home and why depictions of our highest selves, ancestors and cultural memories and traditions must be splashed throughout the place that we rest and are the most vulnerable and creative.

What do you look for in a piece of art when deciding whether to acquire it for B1 Art?

Many items I see when traveling and in touristy areas seem mass-produced, lack uniqueness, and, potentially, are not even made in that country.  On the last trips I went on, without the idea of purchasing art to sell in mind, I could not find art that I thought depicted the beauty and artistry of the people in that country.  

If I can see the person creating it in front of me, whether painting or carving the wood, the better.  Everyone’s eye is different but when something makes me gasp or makes me stop to look at it and touch it, we are on the right track.  If I walk away but can’t get it out of my mind, it’s the one.  Fun fact: I left a huge, canvas painting in Cuba that was one of the only pieces of art that I saw that I wanted and I regret it every time I think about it. 

I want to see something unique about it even if you have other vendors selling something that is very similar.  What is eye-catching about the way that this person’s hands interpreted what a man on a horse should look and feel like?  Weight, texture, and unique detail all come together to leave an impression.  What I see being imported and sold locally tends to look like pieces from the same countries from vendor to vendor. 

That is understandable as the most accessible items that require the lowest overhead are typically what people become accustomed to but for B1, we do not feel limited to only get those items that can fit in a suitcase or that people may already be familiar with.  I like to find things that will create a “one of a kind” experience for the buyer.  

How do you choose the artists and artworks that you feature in your collection?

Our first pieces and most of the art come from Sierra Leone.  I have not been there yet but, my partner has spent a lot of time there and was in the process of building a home and staying there so, he already knew the beauty of the art there and the people who would become part of our fabulous team. 

We work with artists whose work embodies that “Je ne se quoi” craftsmanship that reminds me of the sturdiness, comfort, and authenticity of my nostalgic black experience growing up even if the details of the art pieces themselves were very different.  Most importantly, their art shows their familiarity, love, and the complexity of whatever they are depicting.  Creating art is a spiritual experience for any artists that I have spoken with or observed whose art I also appreciate. 

I think that energy and connection is what calls me.  We have bold statement pieces, anywhere from items that could practically be used as a load-bearing wall in your house to subtle pieces that you can stare at for hours but not realize you are doing it.  Once again, I choose pieces that I can’t take my eyes off of and that I also have probably never laid my eyes on before. 

We also now work with artists in Guinea and Nigeria.  The wooden statues from Guinea are similar to the ones in Sierra Leone but a collector will easily see the differences in their approaches, use of wood, and the ways their takes on what they are recreating subtly differ.  I had not seen a Nigerian bronze piece prior to buying our first pieces.  The craftsmanship is stunning and, although they may be a dime a dozen in Nigeria, I was today years old when I first laid eyes on one in person amid all of my travels.  

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own art collection?

I think that it depends on what the goal is and from my experience there usually is not a “goal” you just start buying what you like or don’t buy anything because you think that there is a “right way” to do it.  If you don’t know your style then search for Black art images on Pinterest, Etsy, and Google “Black art galleries”. As you look for those things, more of them will show up in your feed. 

I love seeing homes that are decorated in Black, African diasporic aesthetic in other publications and now there are so many YouTube shows popping up featuring people with homes decorated in this way.  I studied fashion design once upon a time and one of the many things I learned was to scour the internet (and magazines) for inspiration for designs so, there is no need to try to recreate the wheel and to think that you have to conceive of your own theme and taste without feeling like it has to make sense to others or follow a prescribed script.

It is worth considering at the beginning of your journey whether you want to collect art just based on what you like and what fits your space and/or if you want to collect art that you like but that you also consider as an investment.  In other words, do you want to target pieces that you think you could sell for more than you paid for it at some point in time in the future or pass on to your loved ones in an estate plan to increase their net worth? I think that those are two different lanes and approaches, but they can and typically do coexist. I bought what I liked prior to 2021 and now, I also collect with the intention of them being investments and a way to generate and maintain generational wealth while also enjoying it now. 

Therefore, I am mindful of wanting pieces that are unique and beautiful to me and that I want to be passed down for many generations to come but that also may be sold, if necessary or as a strategic financial move.  At the end of the day, I think that it should “call” you.  If you walk away from it or leave it in your Etsy shopping cart but can’t get it out of your mind, that might be a piece that you need in your collection.  If you have a home with a minimalistic aesthetic or maximalist, I am certain that we have a piece that would fit.  

Also, your tastes can evolve as you grow.  Be prepared for and create space for things that worked in one space or when you were at a certain place in life to no longer fit in a new space or with evolved tastes.  That does not have to be a tragedy or disappointment but, instead, can be an opportunity to have an art swap, sale or to have seasonal rotations and to have some things in time out for a while as you bring in other items.

What can we expect to see from B1 Art in the future? 

As I mentioned we just received our first shipment of bronze sculptures from Benin, Nigeria so, we will be beefing up the inventory for that collection.

We are working out a deal with the artist to be able to provide steady business for him and to assemble a team there so that we can continue to practice cooperative economics with the many local business owners from our buyer/operations manager to the artist to the crate builder, transporter, lumber sellers, national authenticity certifier, shipping agent contractor that we work with to make sure we deliver pieces to our customers and that the pipeline of people involved in the process continues to benefit.

We have also been seeing art pieces for sale and in people’s collections that are in bad shape.  We have been tempted to get into the search and rescue business by acquiring those pieces and restoring them to their glory. So, you may see some select pieces acquired from other people’s collections and not the artist directly, in the future.

by Tony O. Lawson

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4 mins read

Alternative Investments 101: An Overview of Real Estate, Private Equity, and More

Alternative investments are a popular way for investors to diversify their portfolios and potentially earn higher returns. These types of investments are not the typical stocks, bonds, and cash, but rather a range of other assets that offer the potential for higher returns and lower volatility.

Real Estate

Real estate is one of the most popular alternative investments and can take many forms, including residential properties, commercial properties, and real estate investment trusts (REITs). Investing in real estate allows investors to earn income through rent and capital appreciation. Furthermore, real estate can provide diversification benefits as it doesn’t always move in sync with the stock market.

Private Equity

Private equity funds invest in private companies, typically with the goal of taking the company public or selling it to another company. These investments can provide significant returns, but they also come with a higher level of risk. Private equity is only available to accredited investors and institutional investors.

Hedge Funds

Hedge funds use a variety of investment strategies to generate returns that are not closely correlated with the overall stock market. These strategies can include short selling, leverage, and derivatives. Hedge funds are only available to accredited investors and institutional investors, and they typically have higher investment minimums and management fees than traditional mutual funds.


Commodities are raw materials that are used in the production of goods and services. Investing in commodities can provide diversification benefits and the potential for higher returns. Commodities can be traded through futures contracts, commodity ETFs, and commodity-focused mutual funds.

Art, Collectibles

Investing in rare and valuable art, antiques, and other collectible items can be a great way to diversify a portfolio. The value of these items can appreciate over time and they can also provide enjoyment while they’re held. Investing in art, and collectibles can be difficult, as it requires knowledge and expertise to accurately value the items.

Venture Capital

Venture capital funds invest in start-ups or early-stage companies with high growth potential. These investments can provide significant returns, but they also come with a higher level of risk. Venture capital funds are typically only available to accredited investors and institutional investors.


Investing in infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, airports, and other public assets can provide a steady stream of income through tolls, fees, and rentals. Infrastructure investments also provide long-term growth potential as the economy grows and the infrastructure assets become more valuable.

Private Debt

Investing in loans made to companies or individuals, such as real estate loans or small business loans, can provide a steady stream of income through interest payments. Private debt investments can also provide diversification benefits as the returns are not closely tied to the stock market.

Alternative investments can provide diversification and the potential for higher returns. However, it’s important to note that they also come with a higher level of risk, and they may only be available to accredited investors and institutional investors. It’s also crucial to do your research and understand the investment before putting your money into it.

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6 mins read

Nubuke Foundation: Fueling Ghana’s Art Ecosystem

Nubuke Foundation is a visual art and cultural institution based in Accra, Ghana. Founded in 2006, the Foundation serves as a nexus for the preservation, recording, and promotion of contemporary arts and culture through art exhibitions, book readings, art talks, film screenings, performances, seminars, and workshops.

Odile Tevie is the current director and a founding member of Nubuke Foundation. We caught up with her to learn more about the institution.

Nubuke Foundation
Odile Tevie, Co-Founder and Director of Nubuke Foundation

In what ways does Nubuke Foundation support artists?

Nubuke Foundation has a robust calendar programme within which artists are given opportunities to improve their artistic capabilities, showcase their work and build patronage with audiences.

There is a need for artists- budding, young, or mid-career and those contemplating art practice to be supported and given a platform not only to develop and showcase their works but to engage with art patrons.

The professional ecosystem that supports the career of artists is vital. Nubuke Foundation has provided the opportunity for many professionals to hone their skills-writers, curators, photographers etc.

Nubuke Foundation

What are your thoughts on the development of the art scene in Ghana?

I am extremely proud of where we are today. Nubuke Foundation had the foresight almost 20 years ago to lay the foundation for the artist’s career and future. However, so much more investment is needed to ensure more than 50% of artists graduating from art School continue into full-time practice.

The development needs to be holistic if it is to be sustainable. That means the entire ecosystem of the art scene should be invested in. The artists are ambitious, building on their talents and capabilities to compelling works.

This has brought worldwide interest to our art scene. We cannot ignore the role of other professionals who work with them to achieve this.

Nubuke Foundation

Which up-and-coming or established artists do you think we should know about?

There are several artists who are extremely talented and doing incredibly well with focus and drive. Several of the mid-career artists today would have had several opportunities in our exhibition programming in the last 16 years to strengthen and showcase their practice. 

I am extremely proud of the ones who have participated in our YGA programme in the last 8 years as well.

Na Chainkua Reindorf and Nana Opoku are showing in Ghana’s pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale. Eric Gyamfi is a beautiful photographer and Gideon Appah is also an artist to watch.

We are also very keen to promote artists whose works are priced affordably. This programme will be launched in November/ December 2022.

Nubuke Foundation

What needs to occur in order to develop the African art ecosystem?

It’s a very tall order! We need to intentionally focus and systematically build up the system by bringing more business and tech skills to the commercial side, engaging more philanthropy, patronage, and support to build career opportunities for artists, and strengthening the capacity of professionals.

Training is an essential first step. There is a need for criticality in academia and research, and to provide access to resources, libraries, etc. It should be noted that it was only in the last decade that the College of Art at KNUST started an MFA in Curating. In the same period, Ghanatta College, the school that Amoako Boafo attended in Accra closed.

Access to ongoing professional development, mentorship, institutional exchanges, and residencies is also important. We need to increase the number of professionals who shape and promote artists- curators, writers, and critics.

More platforms are needed (print media and online) to showcase and promote the incredible talent and work being done on the continent. Art institutions are important in recording history and providing access to resources and archival material. 

Lastly, there should be greater engagement with patrons, collectors, and buyers in the continent.

What does the future look like for the art scene in Ghana?

There is a lot of goodwill and keenness to see growth in the industry. This is a good thing for all of us. So far as we focus and invest in training, ongoing professional development, publishing, and creating more spaces within which we can showcase art.

I am confident that we will develop into a sector that offers career opportunities for artists and the surrounding ecosystem, build sustainable livelihoods, and creates fulfilling experiences for our audiences.

-Tony O. Lawson

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3 mins read

Ernie Barnes Painting From ‘Good Times’ Sells For $15.2 Million

Ernie Barnes created the painting “The Sugar Shack” in the early 1970s. It gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and on a 1976 Marvin Gaye album.

On the 12th of May, the iconic painting was sold at auction in New York City for almost $15.27 million.

According to Christie’s auction house, the sale set an auction record for Barnes’ work by more than 27 times the artist’s previous record, and was 76 times the high estimate of $200,000. The 10-minute auction drew 22 bidders before Houston-based energy trader Bill Perkins.

“I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins told The New York Times following the auction. “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa.”

Eric Barnes
Ernie Barnes

According to Ernie Barnes official website, he created the original version of “The Sugar Shack” after reflecting upon his childhood, during which he was not “able to go to a dance.”

Barnes said in a 2008 interview, “The Sugar Shack’ is a recall of a childhood experience. It was the first time my innocence met with the sins of dance. The painting transmits rhythm so the experience is re-created in the person viewing it.  To show that African-Americans utilize rhythm as a way of resolving physical tension.”

“The Sugar Shack” has been known to art critics for embodying the style of art composition known as “Black Romantic,” which, according to Natalie Hopkinson of The Washington Post, is the “visual-art equivalent of the Chitlin’ circuit.”

When Barnes first created “The Sugar Shack,” he included his hometown radio station WSRC (Durham, NC) on a banner. He incorrectly listed the frequency as 620. It was actually 1410. Barnes confused what he used to hear WSRC’s on-air personality Norfley Whitted saying “620 on your dial” when Whitted was at his former station WDNC in the early 1950s.

After Marvin Gaye asked him for permission to use the painting as an album cover, Barnes then augmented the painting by adding references that allude to Gaye’s album, including banners hanging from the ceiling to promote the album’s singles.

During the “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” anniversary television special on March 25, 1983, tribute was paid to “The Sugar Shack” with a dance interpretation of the painting. It was also during this telecast that Michael Jackson introduced his famous “moonwalk” dance.

Barnes died of leukemia in 2009 at age 70.

Tony O. Lawson

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8 mins read

ArtistsUntold, a Black Owned Clothing Brand that Empowers Black Artists

ArtistsUntold is a Black owned clothing brand that fuses art and fashion. The online retail platform provides up-and-coming Black artists with the opportunity to promote and monetize their artwork through apparel and fine art sales.

We spoke with co-founder, Jordan Abdur-Raoof to find out more about the company and its mission to empower Black artists.

Black Owned Clothing Brand
ArtistsUntold co-founder, Jordan Abdur-Raoof

What inspired the creation of ArtistsUntold and its business model?

I had followed this woman on Instagram for years and she was selling her artwork on apparel. I bought a shirt of hers, and it was just poor quality to be frank. It was then that I was like, you know this is something that I can do. 

I could share the artists’ story, their art, and their mission by creating a platform to pay the artists a portion of each sale. It had everything that I was looking for in a social venture.

Black Owned Clothing Brand

I talked with 30 to 40 people who critiqued it here and there, but generally speaking it seemed like a value proposition that a lot of artists really needed. The one thing that I think is unique to us is that we pay multiples higher than the industry standard to artists. Also, a lot of companies will make artists sign exclusivity agreements where they do not own their artwork anymore, but with us they still retain ownership.

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Essentially the artists are licensing the artwork out to us, and if they one day decided that they did not want the artwork on ArtistsUntold anymore, easy enough; we will take it down. We are trying to be as pro-artist as possible.

Black Owned Clothing Brand

How do you select which artists to work with?

It’s been quite a process. When we first started I’d send out 20 messages a day to different artists who had a few hundred to thousands of followers. And 99 percent of the time you wouldn’t get a response. That has now shifted since June with the Black Lives Matter movement, as it accelerated people’s validation of our value proposition and the service that we’re providing.

Now, some artists will reach out to us such as Brandon Brewer. Brandon reached out when he had about 75 followers. I thought to myself, ‘This is unbelievable. I love the work he’s doing, and I love his creative process along with what he communicates through his art’

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Another example is Uzo, who had only a few thousand followers when we first partnered but now has about 50,000. Seeing them grow exponentially has been really exciting, and I am happy that I was able to see artists and their vision, discuss with our team, and run with it.

Now, it’s almost 100% inbound and we have artists apply and unfortunately, we need to turn artists down from time to time.

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What is the most rewarding and most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?

The challenges and rewards go hand in hand. The hardest part of this is not having a blueprint, but that is what makes this so much fun. Everyday there is a new challenge, or idea, that we need to handle or implement. We are a smaller firm so we are extremely receptive and work hard to pivot quickly depending on customer feedback.

There is no direction list or manual, so you need to figure everything out for yourself. I make a joke that Google is my best friend, but honestly almost every problem I am confronted with I turn to Google and my partners Xander and Steven and we find a solution.

Whether it’s measuring sales taxes, hiring a marketing firm, figuring out Facebook ads, affiliate programs, shipping, how to best respond to client emails and provide excellent customer service, setting up an EIN & business bank account, accounting, or social media aesthetic we are able to learn, adapt, and implement on the fly.  

Where do you see the business in 5 years?

In 5 years, we hope to be recognized as a premier socially conscious and sustainable streetwear & fine art brand. We would like to have a flagship store/gallery in New York and LA combining streetwear, fine art, music, and of course an amazing coffee bar.

We would also like to have a large enough following where any artist on our platform is making enough passive income to pursue art full time whether they have 50 followers or 50,000 followers.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

First and foremost, is to stop talking about it and actually do it. Create a business plan, share your plan and get as much feedback as possible and adapt on the fly because it will not be perfect. While at Cornell I took a lot of classes on Entrepreneurship that have acted as core pillars for this business.

The most important takeaways for me are to listen and ask for feedback & to adapt quickly based on these ‘interviews’ you are conducting. Lastly, there is a huge component of ‘Grit’ which is a passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.

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Black Owned Clothing Brand

You have to have the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere when you face obstacles. I know every day when I wake up, I am going to work on ArtistsUntold whether I want to or not, because I have a commitment to empowering underrepresented communities both financially and by sharing narratives in a positive light that can challenge the stereotypes that exist in today’s society.

I know we have the potential to create hundreds of thousands of dollars in wealth for Black and underrepresented communities and the power to plant hundreds of thousands of trees. This drives me forward, so whatever you create, create it with the right intentions and try to put more good into the world.

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15 mins read

Why Black Art Should Be Part Of Your Investment Portfolio

With the increasing knowledge that art is a viable alternative asset, the rising interest in art by Black artists, coupled with the number of ways we can now invest in art, “Black art”, or African & Diaspora art should be considered as part of your investment portfolio.

A huge advocate of this asset class is art collector and entrepreneur, Freda Isingoma. Freda is the founder of KIISA, an investment & advisory firm focused on developing investment solutions for the Contemporary African & Diaspora Art market and ecosystem.

We caught up with her to learn more about investing in art and why she is so passionate about supporting the work of Black artists around the world.

What inspired you to start KIISA?

KIISA started as a response to a need and a gap that I identified in the African and Diaspora art market. Although my background is in investment banking and entrepreneurship, I have always loved art and have been collecting African & Diaspora art for 20 years. My collecting journey gave me an insight into the market and its dynamics.

black art
Alexis Peskine – Paris

This then prompted me to do a course on “Curating Contemporary Art” and the University of the Arts London, which gave me a bit of background on the more research element of the art world. It’s then that I started to further investigate the African and Diaspora art ecosystem as a whole and really understand what the gaps were.

Keyezua – Angola

After many conversations with mentors, I am glad I got to where I am now, where our focus is on developing a new “story” around African & Diaspora art investments and ecosystem development, and I get to leverage my skills and experience in finance, art collecting, and economic analysis.

KIISA is a pioneer in the Art Investments sector, providing investors with the opportunity to participate in Alternative Asset Funds that are intentionally designed to not only provide long term returns, but also develop impact solutions that drive the growth, visibility, knowledge, and sustainability of the Contemporary African and Diaspora art market.

Amy Sherald – America

Why do you prefer the term “African & Diaspora Art” over “Black Art”?

Many in the art world use either or. I specifically use African & Diaspora Art as it suggests the global footprint and impact of the Black artistic community, history, culture, identity, language, and much more. Ultimately, art made by Black artists is simply art.

Why is there a growing interest in African & Diaspora art? 

The interest in African & Diaspora art has always been there and that’s evident by the fact Classic African art influenced Early European and American Art movements including Cubism, Fauvism, German Expressionism, and American Modernism. We see this in the works of Picasso, Matisse, and Gaugin to name a few.

Furthermore, there has been interest in Modern and Contemporary art by Black artists over the years, but the main issue is that the interest has largely been shallow and inconsistent. The current spotlight on art by Black artists has mainly been generated by a wider interest from the Black community to collect art and be part of cultural economic growth, particularly the younger generation of collectors.

black art
Victor Ehikhamenor – Nigeria

While we have always had collectors within the Black community globally, there has been this misconception that art by Black artists is in main collected by Europeans and other non-Black communities. This is simply not true. The current wave of new collectors that are framing the new dynamic, is being driven by the acknowledgment of art collecting as a way of building cultural equity, preserving heritage, and also participating in an alternative investment growth story.  

Saying that, there has been a rising focus on Black artists by Western art museums and institutions post the protests in the US and globally last Summer. This is due to the fact that many of them were forced to finally face the racial disparities in their collections and programming and at the same time address this bias within the Western art cannon overall. If you ask me how much impact this will make, the jury is still out. There has been more virtue signaling to date, than measurable action. 

Lina Iris Viktor – United Kingdom

Why is it important to increase the number of Black people investing in African & Diaspora?

Any community needs to be the bedrock and foundation of their art ecosystem and cultural expression. I often draw similarities to the Chinese Art market emergence during the last global economic downturn 12 years ago and the intentional build of what is now a dominant art market player.

Although we are dealing with 54 countries and a global diaspora base, Black collectors are realizing that they are an essential part of the art ecosystem as a whole. If we look at art as a language and a way of telling the stories that document our cultural history and current social and political dynamics, it makes sense that these pieces of cultural documentation (and pride), inherent to your own cultural background, are collated and kept. In doing so, it builds a legacy of cultural heritage preservation, that will be shared with, and inform generations to come. 

black art
Goncalo Mabunda Maputo – Mozambique

The other significance in Black collectors taking a greater interest in building cultural equity ownership through collecting art, is that its organically spearheading this wave of new initiatives, collaborations, and technology focused on facilitating growth within the art economy.

Not only will this intensify the much needed demand for art by Black artists, but it will also transform the number of ways in which we invest in it. Furthermore, collectors are not only custodians of art, many are also patrons. Greater patronage makes sure that art/educational institutions and cultural centers continue to serve the local community adequately.

black art
Ndidi Emefiele – Nigeria

What roles can Black owned galleries and museums play in strengthening the market for African & Diaspora?

Black owned galleries and museums on the Continent and Black communities globally, play a vital and critical role in the growth of the African & Diaspora market. We are at a pivotal time in Africa’s artistic history where the repatriation debate is gaining momentum, and additionally where the demand for Modern and Contemporary African & Diaspora art has caught the attention of the art world.

Fundamentally, art museums are shared public spaces dedicated to promoting and educating on artistic and cultural knowledge, while preserving the heritage and artistic integrity of the local community. As a result, they form the foundational pillar of any cultural ecosystem. Therefore, it’s imperative that the community from which the art, the practice, and narrative originate, are also the primary validators of that art. This should not in any way stop the art from being shown, celebrated, engaged within other regions and nations.

Black owned galleries also play an important function too. They not only serve as a powerful portal to communicate the narrative of the artistic production from the community, they cultivate and reinforce a dynamic arts culture and economy that promotes the local artistic talent. This is essential, as it supports the growth, and investment of, artists within the Black community.

Additionally, they in turn nurture the development of collectors and art practitioners (e.g. curators and secondary market advisors), which is a critical component of the ecosystem development. Furthermore, galleries naturally then become procurers of ancillary services in adjacent and complementary businesses/industries in their local communities, as well as attracting “art” tourism, which can be catalysts for economic growth and infrastructural development within that community.

Underplaying the importance of Black owned museums and galleries hinders the empowerment of home-grown narratives and talent, while subsequently weakening the advancement of the domestic artistic community. 

black art
Fahamu Pecou -America

What are the first steps to becoming an art investor?

There a few ways in which you can invest in the art market. The obvious way is through building a collection. My advice is always to just start. Once you start, you get to sharpen your eye and taste, while at the same time learning more about the industry, its nuances, peculiarities ad possibilities.

I am a fan of “burning shoe leather”, whether it’s in person or virtual, through attending Art Fairs, studio visits, galleries, auctions, Art School final year shows, and even residencies. Routinely doing this helps to build relationships with artists, curators, dealers, and other collectors, that help to inform how to build your collection. Building a collection of significance can be fun, but it does take time to really define your taste, demystify the dynamics of the market and build relationships.

There’s no cheat sheet for this. The key is to buy what you love, that way you won’t look back and have any regrets. Do your research, then buy with your eyes and heart, not your ears, because trends in this market come and go just like any other industry.

The other ways to invest in the market are through art investment vehicles, which include art funds and syndicates. The last 12 years has seen a significant increase in the number of art investment vehicles launched because art typically produces returns that have little or no correlation to traditional stock and bond investments.

There was a recent study done by Morgan Stanley that showed that HNWIs have between 5-10% of their net worth invested in art. This is not surprising as alternative assets tend to be seen as a safer way of diversifying the overall risk of your investment portfolio, particularly when stock markets are overheated or/and volatile.

Furthermore, investing in art offers tax advantages, potential hedging against inflation/currency risk, and tends to hold its value over time irrespective of economic sentiment. Structured art investment vehicles offer an opportunity for investors to pool their investment with others, thereby diversifying their exposure to individual art holdings while increasing their exposure to a wider variety of art. Furthermore, they present an opportunity to benefit from the expertise of art investment specialists who understand how to operate in what is generally regarded as a potentially lucrative, but non-transparent market. 

The other channel is through Bitcoin. I am quite excited to see what impact Bitcoin will make in the market, and how it can democratize investment in art. Although the impact is still too small to measure, I believe it has the potential to be revolutionary, particularly for Black artists and Black investors in art. Currently, there are platforms being created to address this. We wait and see!


Tony O. Lawson

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5 mins read

Charles White Painting Missing For Decades From Howard University Turns Up At Sotheby’s

A painting by a noted artist Charles White vanished from Howard University in the 1970s and hadn’t been seen publicly until it turned up at Sotheby’s Auction House last month — and now the school is suing to get back the piece that they believe was stolen from them decades ago.

Howard University, acquired the artwork, “Centralia Madonna,” in the 1940s after its creator, Charles White, completed an artist-in-residency at the school, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Manhattan federal court.

The ink drawing depicts an African American Madonna figure and had been in the university’s possession until at least 1974, when a graduate student viewed the work in the school’s collection and made a record of the piece, according to the suit.

charles white
Centralia Madonna

At some point soon after, the artwork was stolen from the school’s collection and marked as “missing” by a university curator in 1976, according to the lawsuit.

Staff at the university hadn’t been able to locate it in the decades since — until Sotheby’s Auction House in Manhattan contacted them in May to let them know it had been consigned and was scheduled to be put up for auction.

Charles White in his Los Angeles studio, 1970 photo: Robert A. Nakamura

Staff at the auction house told administrators at Howard that two people from South Carolina, Larry and Virginia Borders, had consigned the painting but provided no paperwork showing how it ended up in their personal collection, according to the suit.

The Borders gave shifting stories about how they acquired the work, first saying they received it as a wedding gift from someone named J.D. Kibler in 1972, according to the suit.

charles white
Charles White, 1943, Photograph by Gordon Parks at age 25

They allegedly changed their story, claiming Kibler gave it to them as a gift for no particular reason — but couldn’t expand on their relationship with him, or even provide his first name.

“They claimed J.D. Kibler to be a close friend, they stated that they did not know what the ‘J.D.’ stood for,” the suit states.

In several phone calls and emails this week, the university demanded the Borders return the painting to the school, which the pair refused to do, according to the lawsuit.

The university filed the suit Friday, seeking the artwork’s return and attorney fees related to the legal action. The case is Howard University v Borders, 20-cv-4716, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(L-R) Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederickand Gwendolyn H. Everett, Ph.D., director of the Howard University Gallery of Art and associate dean for the Division of Fine Arts beside Five Great American Negroes, at the Howard University Law Library

The couple’s “claims are all the more implausible given that Howard University has never sold or de-accessioned any work from its collection, and would certainly not sell or de-accession a work by Charles White, a hugely significant Black artist with strong ties to the university,” Howard said in its lawsuit.

In addition to purchasing several of his works, Howard appointed White to a three-year professorship shortly before his death.

In a statement, Sotheby’s said they are a third-party and the ownership dispute involves the Borders and Howard.

“This is an ownership dispute between the University and the consignors, which follows Sotheby’s due diligence in researching the work’s provenance,” the auction house said.

“Sotheby’s is merely a third-party stakeholder and will comply with any decision of the court,” it added.


Sources: New York Post and Bloomberg

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9 mins read

54Kibo, the Digital Marketplace Showcasing The Beauty of African Aesthetic and Luxury Décor

54kibo is the premier luxury digital home décor retailer for interior design professionals and consumers.

The brand was launched in 2018 by Nana Quagraine. Nana was inspired after her travels back and forth between over a dozen African countries and her home in Brooklyn, New York.

Nana Quagraine

These travels helped her identify the strengths across the continent that could be exported to the world. 


As a black woman, Nana was tired of the existing vocabulary used to describe Africa, blackness and womanhood. After she became a mother, she worried that there are not enough visual symbols, especially in the U.S. to signal to her children that their blackness is valued by society. She wanted them to be proud of their roots and have the same appreciation for Africa and for being a black person that her family instilled in her. 


Driven by these multiple experiences, Nana decided to build something that was tangible, something that introduces a new vocabulary for Africa. After exploring a number of ideas over the years, design seemed like a no brainer.


“People globally appreciate beauty. When you see beautiful design in art, fashion or home decor, it is undeniable – it draws you in”, she explained.” The uniqueness and beauty of contemporary African design is undeniable, it invites you to learn, explore its origins, learn something new about Africa, about the diaspora, about the world and hopefully about yourself.”

Adinkra inspired swaddles and kids blankets

How would you describe African aesthetic and design?

The 54 in 54kibo represents the 54 countries that are in Africa because every country in the continent has so much creativity and beauty to offer! The African aesthetic is vibrant, unique, and most importantly, visually new and appealing in the home decor category.

Contrary to common knowledge, African design is not limited to tribal designs. It covers a broad spectrum that includes minimalist designs, and colorful, bold, maximalist designs.

Design is driven by people, their daily experiences, aspirations and dreams. With over a billion people in Africa and the diaspora; and thanks to a growing and more demanding middle class with easier access to technology and information, African art and design is flourishing.

African design is adding a flair of innovation to the design world by being truly distinctive in a relatively homogeneous market place. Thebe Magugu becoming the first LVMH prize recipient from Africa, at this point in time is not a coincidence. There is already a pipeline of creative talent in Africa and the diaspora that is ready to be discovered and experienced.

At 54kibo, we’re curating this talent and making it frictionless to shop luxury and uniquely beautiful home decor. For example, we now have a trade program for interior designers, architects and other design professionals which makes it easier to shop from multiple designers from the diaspora on one platform.

This reduces the effort required to research and navigate multiple websites, negotiate terms and navigate logistics, payment systems, customs, quality issues and multiple other hurdles. We received a shipment of the Ile-Ila Alaafia rocker chair  today and we’re all still in awe of its bold design and beauty! Now our customers can enjoy this beauty without having to think about and deal with the hurdles. 

To what would you attribute the growing popularity of African aesthetics?

There continues to be an explosion in demand for Contemporary African art and fashion in the U.S. and globally. For example when I first saw art by Eddie Ilunga, from Democratic Republic of Congo, three years ago in New York it was selling for $10k, this month his work sold for over $75k at Sothebys.

That is an amazing return on investment.  For the home furnishings sector, which is often influenced by art and fashion trends, two years ago IKEA partnered with Design Indaba in South Africa to create a global collection, featuring a collection of prolific African designers that launched this year. We are thrilled to see this, as it is extraordinarily validating for our business proposition.  

In general, we now live in a world that is increasingly digitally connected and global; and there is a growing population of consumers with cosmopolitan tastes who are eager to explore the undiscovered corners of this world. They’re looking for the unique, the unexplored.

There is a whole creative world in Africa and the diaspora – some of the world’s most beautiful and least well-known designs – all waiting to be experienced. For black consumers, in addition to the above, our value-add is also representation.

Our first shipment of this exquisite pillow collection from Yael et Valerie based in Haiti, sold out before we could even list it! We’re providing access to a previously overlooked source of beauty, from designers who look like them. Offering a new and fresh perspective of design to all our customers and introducing designers in Africa and the diaspora to the world.


How do you decide what items to carry?

When choosing our items, we look at the quality of each piece, the distinctiveness of the design, the designer’s story and most importantly, consider the needs of our customers and where the piece might reside in their life.

There is so much talent in the industry, it’s hard to narrow down our selection but we have a team with experienced merchandisers who have worked in the home category at major retailers.

We also work closely with leading interior designers in the New York area who help guide our selections. For example, we’ve met a lot of amazing product designers and interior designers through the Black Artist + Designers Guild, founded by Malene Barnett.

This Summer, 54kibo participated in the BADG Transcend space at NY NOW Trade Show. The space was designed and transformed with bold and creative pieces by interior designers Beth Diana Smith and Kiyonda Powell. Their space clearly showcased black design in a modern and beautiful way, which also won them the IFDA award for most Innovative Design.

Where do you see the business in 5 years?

It is ambitious but we want to build a global retail brand. To become the world’s go-to source for home décor with contemporary African design. We currently have over 30 incredible designers on the platform and will be adding more. We have 450 skus listed but this is less than 2% of the products available to us.

So, if customers prove us right and if we can achieve our sales targets in the short term, we plan to expand our products by 5x over the next twelve months. We look forward to continue collaborating with more product designers, interior designers, other retailers, and the media to showcase Contemporary African Design throughout the US, and ultimately, the world.

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