International Month of Black Women in the Arts is observed annually throughout the month of February. The month is observed to recognize the impactful contributions of Black women across the areas of healing arts, culinary arts, fine arts, performing arts, and literature. Black women in the arts have overcome centuries-long discrimination and left indelible footprints on the world of art. What a great idea to have a whole month set apart to celebrate their incredible achievements.
History of International Month of Black Women in the Arts
As part of a renaissance of Black literature, the first examples of literature by Black women began surfacing around the 1850s in the U.S. These included Harriet Wilson’s “Our Nig;” or, “Sketches from the Life of a Free Black,” as well as the short stories written by Ellen Watkins Harper. In 1861, Harriet Jacobs published “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” a book that became the first autobiography written by a former female slave. The book chronicled the sad realities of the sexual exploitation perpetrated against Black women during the slavery era.
The creation of more artistic works by Black people continued on into the Civil War period. For instance, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote “Sketches of a Southern Life” in 1872. Following the First World War, inspired by African traditions, Black artists began producing work with African influences. In 1914, Meta Warrick Fuller produced a sculpture called “Ethiopia’s Awakening” and even became the first Black woman to receive a federal commission for her art. The racial oppression in America that progressed into the 20th century did not shut down the artistic excellence of Black women. In 1972, Alma Woodsey Thomas became the first Black woman to have a solo exhibit of her paintings at the Whitney Museum.
In the 21st century, the systemic oppression of years now serves as a source of inspiration to artists who use their experiences to produce poignant and inspirational works of art.
International Month of Black Women in the Arts timeline
Harriet Jacobs makes history after she writes the first autobiography by a former female slave.
Meta Warrick Fuller becomes the first Black woman awarded a federal commission for her art.
Shirley Chisholm is the first Black woman elected to Congress.
Alma Woodsey Thomas becomes the first Black woman to get a solo exhibit of her paintings at the Whitney Museum.
Lorna Simpson becomes the first Black woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale.
Toni Morrison becomes the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
International Month of Black Women in the Arts FAQs
Has America ever had a female Black president?
No, but in 2021, the U.S. inaugurated its first female, black vice president called Kamala Devi Harris.
When did African-American women get the right to vote?
Though the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in America, Black women did not fully enjoy the right until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What percentage of America's female population is made up of Black women?
Black women make up about 12.9% of the population of women in the U.S.
How to Observe International Month of Black Women in the Arts
Make a black woman’s day
Whether or not they participate in arts, create a happy memory for all the Black women you know. Go on, show some love to these ‘sistas.’
Learn about black women in the arts
There are many inspirational black women who make their mark in the art world on a daily basis. Learn more about them by studying their history and how they've been able to make a meaningful impact.
Spread the word
Don’t keep all this information. Share with your network, both in person and on social media.
5 Inspirational Black Women In The Arts
Best known for her colorful abstract paintings, Thomas was the first person to graduate from Howard University's fine arts department.
Awarded with over 50 honorary degrees, Angelou is famous for her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
Famous for "The Bluest Eye" and "Song of Solomon," Morrison was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in 1969, Walker is a contemporary painter, installation artist, silhouettist, print-maker, filmmaker, and professor.
Laura Wheeler Waring
Born on May 16, 1887, Waring is best remembered for her inspirational paintings of prominent Black people during the Harlem Renaissance.
Why International Month of Black Women in the Arts is Important
It celebrates the resilience of black women
We can learn a thing or two about resilience from Black people, including Black women. They are arguably one of the most suppressed and misunderstood people in history. Yet they have not allowed themselves to be defined as victims.
It speaks against discrimination and racism
The fact that black women have had to work doubly hard just to have their work recognized speaks to this aspect of discrimination and racism. This whole Month is a chance to get rid of these arbitrary standards.
The power to fight prejudice
It takes strength to overcome systematic prejudice and still come out better. In a world where women are denied rights, black women have stood up for their rights and pushed for better lives. They're a powerful force to be reckoned with.
International Month of Black Women in the Arts dates