Obsidian Arts spotlights cutting-edge black visual culture


“I’m white and I have a lot to learn about black art,” I wrote in February, “but I believe I could contribute valuable insight to Obsidian Arts in an advisory capacity.” That was how I found myself sitting in a conference room at Pillsbury House last week, joining a conversation as part of the nonprofit arts organization’s newly-formed advisory panel.

The seed of Obsidian Arts, I learned, was planted in 1994 when the artist John Biggers was commissioned to create a mural—with 17 emerging artists—on a North Minneapolis freeway wall. The mural was torn down for construction in 2001, just a few months after the artist’s death, but the community organization that had come together as part of the mural’s creation was going strong, taking the name Obsidian Arts in 2003 with a mission to promote and examine African-American visual culture in all its forms: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, fashion, design, dance, and more.

The organization’s many innovative exhibits and programs have included shows inspired by protest, gumbo (yes, the stew), Afro-futurism, ideas of God, sagging clothes, and the beloved Minneapolis ZIP code of 55407. Obsidian Arts has also become well-known for the national and international tours it organizes to visit landmark sites of African history and black visual culture around the world.

Just learning about the busy organization’s work was enough for one night; the panel will reconvene soon to discuss ways that Obsidian Arts can continue to grow and to engage diverse new audiences in the ongoing story of African-American art and visual culture.

Also read “Obsidian Arts shares richness of black art with the community” (Susan Budig, 2006), “Black culture is right ‘under our nose'” (Jimmy Stroud, 2008), and “Afro Art Trippin’: Obsidian Arts broadens local perspectives on black culture” (Makula Dunbar, 2012).