Guest Blog: “How is it to be an African American Artist in America?" - by Artist, Damion Johnson

Recently, I was asked “How is it to be an African American Artist in America?"


I thought to myself, "Wow, I never stepped away and examined my reality."


After some thought, I can best explain it through my art.


When colored brown, or identified as black, this fist stands as a global symbol of fighting oppression.

"Black Privilege" by Artist, Damion Johnson


A raised or clenched fist is a symbol of solidarity and support. It's also used as a salute to express unity and strength. The origin of the raised fist is unclear, but its earliest existence can be traced to the labor movement that took place around 1910. This icon is also a celebratory gesture and sometimes represents victory. But when colored brown, or identified as black, this fist stands as a global symbol of fighting oppression.


The monochromatic nature of this piece causes these symbols of oppression to not only appear attached, but become a part of the figure.

In my painting entitled “Black Privilege”, I used this fist as a central solitary figure. It appears to be worn, swollen, and riddled from years of labor. Just below the clenched fist, the wrist and forearm are weighted with cuffs, shackles, locks, ropes, chains, and flags. These icons reflect the reality of our lives as “Blacks” living in America. In some way, shape, or form the effects of slavery, marginalization, racism, colorism, imprisonment, murder, and gang violence are present in our lives. The monochromatic nature of this piece causes these symbols of oppression to not only appear attached, but become a part of the figure.


I liken my reality to the high temperature and pressure it takes to make a diamond.

In my work and in my life, alike, I deal with the beauty in things. “Things” - such as situations, relationships, people, undertakings, issues, and even artwork are seen as clouds and in my minds-eye and I operate in a space where I have a choice of which side of the cloud I want to be on. Some view this work as a symbol of black power being held down by what the icons represent. These hardships/curses began with the existence of Blacks in America. They have evolved, expanded, became a constant and some say they will they never go away.


They chose one side of the cloud ……… but I choose the opposite.


Some would call it a curse; I call it a privilege.

As I fore-stated, I deal with beauty, so I view these hardships/curses as the “makings of me.“ I liken my reality to the high temperature and pressure it takes to make a diamond. For those who are unfamiliar with this process, it starts with a lump of coal - yes, a common, black lump of coal. This coal finds itself in a harsh situation where it is exposed to high pressure and extreme temperatures - but get this - this coal has to exist in this impossible situation for around 3.3 billion years. This harsh, seemingly never-ending, length of time produces the world's most valuable gem. Some would call it a curse; I call it a privilege.


So,in a nutshell, the answer to the question of “How is my life as a Black Artist in America?” ...


It is a privilege.



-Damion Johnson