Black Women Make Art

Janyce Denise Glasper recently spoke at the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC). She had lovely things to say about her artistic practice, the Artblog art writing challenge, and her upcoming projects, including her database "Black Women Make Art," which will launch January 1st, 2020!

Janyce Denise Grasper, Ode To Augusta, crayon lithograph on Fabriano Paper, 2018. Image courtesy the artist.
Janyce Denise Glasper, Ode To Augusta, crayon lithograph on Fabriano Paper, 2018. Image courtesy the artist.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”— Toni Morrison

I often think about that Toni Morriosn quote in both my artistic and writing practices, for the problematic absence is still presently felt. When I was a little girl artist/writer learning about the makers of art, those that came before me, I often wondered where we were, if we existed. Were Black artists creating? Were Black women drawing, painting, and writing too? Why were my formative years being filled with Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, and my personal favorite Chagall? Something was missing in the curriculum, something tangible, something familiar. Although I was creating— painting and drawing and writing— in the back of my mind was the question “are there more like me out there? Am I all alone in a sea of whiteness?”

In middle school, I had my first Black art teacher, Mr. Mason— a key instrument in acquiring the art history knowledge so desperately sought. I greedily ate up the Harlem Renaissance like a starving, malnourished creature having craved this particular information forever. I discovered the great Augusta Savage, a sculptor, writer, and activist challenging the art institutional structure in Harlem. I was fascinated by a woman longing to travel the world and being denied countless honors due to the horrible racism of her era. I created a litho highlighting her accomplishments including Lift Every Voice and Sing otherwise known as The Harp, a giant sculpture commissioned for the 1939 World’s Fair that only exists via photograph because it was destroyed due to the artist having no space.

Image courtesy Janyce Denise Glasper.
Slide from Janyce’s talk at the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. Image courtesy Janyce Denise Glasper.

I came to art school hoping to find more Black women visual artists while pursuing my own artistic career, but it turned out to be a colossal disappointment in undergrad. Seurat, Manet, El Greco, Degas, and an endless list of other names were brought to the forefront from my six art history courses. However, I immensely thank them for Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems.

It became a ravenous desire to find others, outside of higher education spaces. I came to Philadelphia on the heels of Diane Edison and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, wanting to paint the figure while also talking about it. These two influential women were making powerful, very charged work on engaging the African diaspora and the Black female body, often using themselves as focal entrance points, much like myself. During my studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), I felt strongly encouraged to see New York City and Washington D.C., bask in the richness of other Black contemporary artists. Visiting critics Titus Kaphar, Abigail Deville, and Jennifer Packer were valuable resources, always telling me to open up my eyes and never stop creating work.

In addition to the making of art, I wanted to talk about the art seen through my travels, draw my thoughts into words. I had been writing about art on several personal blogs for a while, but never thought of it as being something people cared to read.


On Saturday, October 19th, 2013 at Moore College’s Annual Leadership Conference for Women in the Arts, I discovered artblog, heard Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof speak on this phenomenal platform that allows writers to write about the local and surrounding art scene. I thought, “could I fit there?” I write with poetic sensibility, for I experience the work through the soul of an intimate art lover that is not necessarily steeped in theory. And I had to read so much theory that at times was difficult to understand.

The artblog art writing challenge came about at a wonderful time. I had been at a crossroads, questioning my validity, if I could be an artist that writes about art? Was a prose format proper to address the platonic affection for a body of work— paintings, drawings, sculpture, performance, etc? For these art writing challenges, I didn’t change my metaphorical style— just submitted pieces about my Philadelphia experiences— such as visiting The Colored Girls Museum in Germantown and the photography exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Being a two time honorable mention is a gracious testament to the earlier questions of “do I deserve this? Do I belong here?” It made me ultimately see that I did.

Black Women Make Art Database, an archive of almost 400 women of African descent all over the world, past and present, launches January 1, 2020.
Black Women Make Art Database, an archive of almost 400 women of African descent all over the world, past and present, launches January 1, 2020.

Thus, all of my work has led me down the path of independent scholarship. As film director/writer Ava DuVernay has stated, “if your dreams just include you, your dream is too small.” Next year, I will be launching Black Women Make Art (BWMA), a database that contains almost 400 Black women visual artists, past and present, working in all mediums, all over the world. It is to inspire little girl artists or the little girl artists in ourselves that they don’t have to grow up believing that they can be “the next Picasso.” They can be the next inspiring artist in this database.


Janyce Denise Glasper delivered this talk at The Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium.

Janyce Denise Glasper lives and works in Dayton, Ohio. She earned her BFA from the Art Academy of Cincinnati and MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Find Arts. She is an award winning artist and art writer and a Philly Artblog contributor. You can see Janyce’s artwork at The Colored Girls Museum’s upcoming exhibit. Make sure to stay tuned for the launch of her database, Black Women Make Art (BWMA) launching soon!