A close look at the marker drawings of Ben Biayenda reveals a wide range of direct references from African tribal art to French Post-Impressionism and current pop culture. The Paris-based art student’s work celebrates black beauty in all of its diversity. His sensitive portraits depict black women in moments of intimacy, connection and self-care. His scenes are of beauty parlors and plant-filled bohemian apartments. In girl’s dinner, three black women sit down together to share some sushi rolls. An African mask, a Matisse cut out, and a poster of Angela Davis hang on the wall behind them. One of the guests has vitiligo, perhaps an homage to Winnie Harlow, a Canadian model with the skin condition.
Biayenda started drawing black women two years ago, inspired, he says, by “black femininity, sisterhood, and little moments of beauty.” He is also inspired by black feminist conceptual artists like Adrian Piper and Michèle Magema to interrogate race, gender roles, Western beauty standards, and art itself through his work. Born in Namibia to French and Congolese parents, the artist grew up in France and was exposed to fine art at a young age. He grew to especially love French painters, from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres to Henri Rousseau. “I was really fascinated by painting and I was going to museums in Paris. I really loved it, but there was some frustration to not see much black representation in famous paintings,” he recalls to The Creators Project over a Skype call. His response was to create his own version of art history through work that reflected his own standards of beauty, while drawing on the poses and atmosphere of the classic works he admired.
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