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African American Art

In 1944, only nine years after opening its doors, the VMFA acquired its first work by an African American artist. Since that time, the Museum has remained steadfast in building a collection reflective of the African American experience and expression. In 2015, the VMFA redoubled these efforts, launching an initiative to significantly deepen its holdings of African, African American and African Diasporic artists as a means to expand its connection to an ever growing diverse community.

Related Stories & Collections


The collection features masterpieces from early American to modern and later, contemporary artists. With such a vast arch across time, these works collectively underscore the dramatic shifts in the artistic, social and political landscape and their impact upon the creative expression. Through the work of such remarkable artists who range from Joshua Johnson to Kehinde Wiley, we are able to see the transformations within our society that continue to inform our multivalent culture.

Rumors of War by Kehinde Wiley

Rumors of War takes its inspiration from the statue of Confederate Army General James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart created by Frederick Moynihan in 1907 and removed in 2020. As with the original sculpture, the rider strikes a heroic pose while sitting upon a muscular horse. However, in Wiley’s sculpture, the figure is a young African American dressed in urban streetwear. Proudly mounted on its large stone pedestal, the bronze sculpture commemorates African American youth lost to the social and political battles being waged throughout our nation.

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Louis H. Draper and the Draper Archive Project

In 2015, VMFA acquired Draper’s complete archive from his sister, Nell Draper-Winston. The archive consists of more than 6,600 items (representing more than 50,000 images), including photographs, negatives, contact sheets, slides, computer disks, audiovisual materials, and camera equipment, as well as valuable documents and publications, which include significant materials about the formation and early years of the Kamoinge Workshop. The archive inspired and informed the exhibition and catalog Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop

Two years later, in 2017, the museum was awarded a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund 29 months of work that transformed an extremely large, physical archive into a rich digital resource. An interdepartmental grant team was assembled from across the museum, including staff members of the Library/Archives, Imaging Resources, Curatorial, and Conservation departments.

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Hank Willis Thomas @VMFA

American artist Hank Willis Thomas discusses his work and the construction of black identity through popular culture.

The interview was conduced by John B. Ravenal (Syndey and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art), VMFA.

Radcliffe Bailey @ VMFA

Artist Radcliffe Bailey talks about his artistic process and what he hopes his art conveys. Come see "Vessel" in VMFA's permanent collection.

Julie Mehretu @ VMFA

Artist Julie Mehretu talks about the concepts, processes, and implications of her "Stadia" series, including "Stadia III" in VMFA's permanent collection.

Artist Talk | LeRoy Henderson

LeRoy Henderson discusses his life and work documenting American protest culture with Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Kehinde Wiley @ VMFA

Produced to accompany the exhibition, "Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic," this video series features the artist himself discussing his background, work, process, philosophy, and art historical influences.

Robert Pruitt @VMFA

American artist Robert Pruitt discusses his inspirations, his process, and elements of the absurd in this artist talk.