Artsy’s latest auction is a celebration of Black History Month, featuring works direct from the studios of eight dynamic, rising Black artists: Alteronce Gumby, Jewel Ham, Devin B. Johnson, Nate Lewis, Simphiwe Ndzube, Anya Paintsil, Ferrari Sheppard, and Qualeasha Wood.
Organized in collaboration with the blockchain platform Fairchain, the auction places an emphasis on building an equitable future for all artists. A portion of the proceeds from the artists’ hammer and Artsy’s buyer’s premium will be donated to 15 Percent Pledge, the organization working to advance equal opportunity and create sustainable and supportive ecosystems for Black-owned businesses and Black people in the workforce.
Ahead of the sale—which opens for bidding on February 21st at 12 p.m. EST and closes on February 28th at 12 p.m. EST—we caught up with the featured artists to learn about the works they’ve contributed and their inspirations for taking part in this auction.
B. 1998, Charlotte, North Carolina. Lives and works in New York.
“Entitled what was said? (2022), this artwork invites viewers to take a seat at a table made by us,” Jewel Ham said of her featured painting. “While the work is framed to suggest having your cake and eating it too, the attitude of the figure directly across the table forces us to wonder what exactly lies underneath the surface of such a space. Though open to personal interpretation, this work seduces viewers into examining the experience of catching the tea—with a tone reminiscent of The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s infamous exchange of ‘Who said that?’”
Ham chose this particular work for the auction because “it forces viewers into a space of conversation,” she explained. “Though the main figure clearly presents a challenge, this multidimensional expression is depicted in the warm glow of a shared meal; a reiteration that multiple things can be true at once.”
On her participation in the auction, Ham noted, “Beyond my support of both 15 Percent Pledge and Fairchain, I am interested in utilizing the proceeds from this opportunity to continue working towards creating community and opportunities for Black artistry that prioritize liberation; particularly by way of reimagining the traditional gallery experience.”
Ham held two solo shows in 2022: “keep it cute” at Cierra Britton Gallery, and “i said what i said” at Anthony Gallery. Last year, she was also featured in group shows at Kavi Gupta and Art Lead Her.
B. 1985, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Lives and works in New York.
“I started this work at the beginning of 2021, when I started working with and honing some new processes,” Nate Lewis said of Signaling/Send (2021), an exemplary work in his signature, singular style. “The subject of the work is an incredible artist/mover/dancer called Maxfield Haynes. Working with dancers/movers as the subjects of some of my work is something I’ve been doing since I started working with photography. Amongst the beauty and spirit that movement evokes, I enjoy the technical mastery and control over one’s body.…I’m interested in the possibility of the language of movement.
“I love this piece,” Lewis continued. “I’ve had this work in my studio since 2021 and didn’t want to let it go. However, I wanted to give a piece that is really significant to me for this auction, because of the weight and significance that I feel Fairchain and 15 Percent Pledge uphold.”
Lewis had a solo show in New York, “Tuning the Current,” this past fall at Fridman Gallery, which represents him. In 2022, he also took part in group exhibitions at Superposition and Zidoun-Bossuyt.
B. 1990, Hofmeyr, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
“I am interested in portraiture, and this work is part of a series titled ‘Natives of the Mine-Moon,’” Simphiwe Ndzube said of his featured painting. “The series compiles characters, identities, and ultimately, a portrait of a community: the bodies who inhabit the Mine-Moon. I have previously included prophets, recluses, aunties, thieves, poets, and philosophers in the series. I am now exploring a new set of residents who are a hybrid between humans, animals, and flora. This work marks the new expansion into what is to come.”
Of his participation in the auction, Ndzube said, “As a Black immigrant artist operating in the U.S., this is one of the great ways I can support other Black-owned businesses in the States.”
In 2022, Ndzube had solo shows with Nicodim in Los Angeles and Stevenson in Cape Town. His work has also been featured in group exhibitions around the world, including at Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Orange County Museum of Art in California.
B. 1993, Wrexham, North Wales. Lives and works in Manchester, England.
“Braiding hair cloak (2022) is a reimagining of a giant from Welsh mythology, after whom a mountain is named, close to where I grew up in North Wales,” Anya Paintsil said of her work in the auction. “He took the hair and beard of every man he defeated in battle and made them into a cloak. My work seeks to find points of convergence in my Welsh and Ghanaian heritages, combining folklore, personal narratives, and traditional techniques of rug-making with afro hairstyling methods.
“My creative practice is material intensive, and I use a lot of afro hairstyling tools, braiding hair, clips, beads, and combs in the production of my textiles, and always seek to buy from local Black-owned businesses in terms of both my practice and in my personal life,” Paintsil continued, “so I was delighted to have my work be included in this auction in support of the 15 Percent Pledge.”
Paintsil was recently featured in a solo show, “Proof of Their Victories,” at Hannah Traore Gallery in New York, and she had her first London solo show last year at Ed Cross Fine Art.
B. 1996, Long Branch, New Jersey. Lives and works in New York.
“Memory Leak (2023) is a new piece that examines the contexts, futures, and ontology of the Black femme body through the lens of an operating system,” Qualeasha Wood said of the tapestry she chose to sell in this auction. “Memory Leak more specifically acts as a fail-safe; mirroring the everyday experience of the subconscious yet intentional practice of safety as a Black woman in online and offline spaces.
“Error messages serve as a boundary and a restriction, denying some access to the server and demanding an adjustment from the viewer before proceeding,” Wood continued. “The fail-safe, Memory Leak is triggered by the introduction of the gaze—implying that from the moment the piece was made, data became visible and invisible through each process in its creation (digital, to analog).
“I chose to include Memory Leak in the auction through thinking about the depersonalization that often comes from working with the self as subject matter as a means to regaining autonomy. Memory Leak works as a protective spell, contending with what it means to look, to see, to be seen, and to be looked at.”
Wood was drawn to the auction by its uniqueness: “This auction, in its model, ethics, and function, behaves differently than the typical artist auction, where artists rarely have control or input themselves,” she explained. “15 Percent Pledge calls to action brands that overlook Black communities but profit from our consumption, so bringing this work to the partnership felt like an opportunity to be in conversation with others who are considering autonomy and consumption in and beyond the art world.
“I often ask myself, ‘In what ways can my practice make a tangible difference within my community?’ and am constantly looking for opportunities to do so,” the artist said. “This has always been an important piece of my practice, and I’m fortunate to be aligned with an opportunity that considers deeply the practice of artists and the impacts that can be made. Learning about Fairchain’s aim towards equitable infrastructure and autonomy for artists and the ability to have a record/accountability for collectors was also a highlight for me.
“There is a lot of good faith that must be exercised when forming connections with collectors. As we look at the hyper-consumption of Black art at this moment in time, it is great to have an added layer of security that protects artists and secures our futures. I was also recently featured in The Artsy Vanguard, so it’s encouraging as well to see Artsy’s Impact channel offer actions for Black History Month beyond representation.”
Wood recently took part in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s prestigious artist residency program, culminating in the exhibition “It’s time for me to go” at MoMA PS1, which closes on February 27th. This May, she will also open a solo show at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London.
B. 1992, Los Angeles. Lives and works in New York.
Devon B. Johnson contributed a new painting for this auction, To Be a Man is to Blossom (2023). “The subjectivity of the work suggests a play with the past, future, and present,” Johnson explained. “I made this work thinking about the notion of nostalgia and how spaces trigger nostalgia.
“There’s definitely an energy in the air for innovation within the Black community,” Johnson continued. “To be in line with movements like Fairchain and initiatives like 15 Percent Pledge is to believe in the future. A big part of Black history depends on the forward-thinking of individuals driving forward innovative ideas. I’m happy to contribute a work in which those efforts highlight and support individuals driving innovative ideas.”
Johnson was featured in The Artsy Vanguard 2022 and held solo shows last year at Nicodim, which represents him, as well as at Pond Society in Shanghai.
B. 1985, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Lives and works in New York.
Shamrock after school, 2023
Artsy Impact Auctions
“Shamrock after school (2023) is inspired by an after-school program that I used to go to when I was a kid,” Alteronce Gumby said of his work in the auction. “Shamrock was across the street from my grandmother’s house. In creating this piece, I was thinking about all the tools that the afterschool program gave to me. They would take us to the pool and taught me how to swim, guitar lessons, art classes, and they even gave me the chance to use my first computer.
“Shamrock was a way to keep kids off the street, but it also gave us inner city kids a little perspective of what’s out there beyond our immediate surroundings,” he continued. “It trained my own visual perception of the world to stray outside of the box and away from cultural norms that are built around us. In that same vein, how I see art, color, and abstraction is undefined by those sorts of parameters.”
Gumby was drawn to the auction due to both Fairchain and 15 Percent Pledge. “Fairchain is an amazing company that strives to give artists a commission on sales of their artwork in the secondary market; that’s something that a lot of artists can really benefit from, especially as they move forward into their mid to late careers,” he said. “15 Percent Pledge is also an amazing foundation that is helping Black businesses find shelf space within retail stores. You don’t really see too many Black-owned businesses in major retail stores. The work [the founder of 15 Percent Pledge] Aurora James is doing to get small Black businesses a foot in the door is incredible.”
In 2022, Gumby, who was featured in The Artsy Vanguard 2021, had his first solo museum show, “Dark Matter,” at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania. He also held a solo show, “The Color of Everything,” at Nicola Vassell Gallery, which started representing him last year.
B. 1983, Chicago. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
“I named this painting Love Song for Lucinda (2023) as an homage to Langston Hughes, a poet who in my opinion came the closest to describing love,” Ferrari Sheppard said of his work in the auction. “This work is an extension of my concurrent solo show at Frieze Los Angeles, which focuses on the mother and child, a reoccurring theme in my practice. I am deeply interested in the genesis of one’s life, or how one came to be. Other than death, birth might be the single most important event of one’s life. This theme also represents artistic creativity.”
“I support both [15 Percent Pledge and Fairchain],” Sheppard continued. “Fairchain aims to provide equity and fairness for working artists whose work may change hands on the secondary market. 15 Percent Pledge does the same thing in a broader sense. Any reasonable person would agree that Africans in America have been presented with socioeconomic disadvantages for centuries while contributing greatly to the enrichment of society.
“When the pandemic began, racial tensions and social upheaval soon followed due to systemic racism. Various corporations and institutions released statements condemning racism and police brutality. 15 Percent Pledge stepped in and asked those same entities to put their money where their mouth is. I’m participating in observance of Black History Month.”
Sheppard will be featured in a solo presentation with MASSIMODECARLO at Frieze Los Angeles this week. In 2022, he had a solo show, “Tremendous,” with MASSIMODECARLO in London, in addition to showing with the gallery at its Paris outpost, as well as at Art Basel in Paris and Miami, and TEFAF New York. Sheppard was also featured in 2022 group exhibitions at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Browse and register to bid in “Artsy Impact Auction: Black History Month Focus, Presented with Fairchain.”