This guy made a directory of black artists: Tali Ramsey finds out why

A directory that lists black artists from all over the world can be viewed as both a good and a bad thing, but for 26-year-old graduate Seun Debiyi, it’s something that he felt necessary to create. Although Seun studied Economics at University, he is a self-proclaimed ‘art enthusiast’ who saw a gap big enough in the art market to dedicate an entire website to listing over 450 black artists.

The London based founder currently lives around Europe, with Barcelona providing his temporary home until June. Here, he discusses the idea behind the directory, the public response and his plans for the future.

How does the directory work?

The directory is a connected database I made online of 450 black artists. They have been categorized by the region they are from and each visual tile leads directly to the artist’s website or social media.

What made you decide to create it?

I think a series of events led me to create this. When I first started taking an active interest in art away from school I started off by visiting the institutional galleries in London such as the Tate and the National Gallery. I couldn’t see myself in much of the art apart from the occasional works. I didn’t really see art that spoke to my experience or from people who looked like me. Just before I created the website I had been living in a few countries in Europe and I had been visiting their galleries and museums and I really started getting into art history. What I found interesting is that for European artists its very easy to find out what art was being created in a particular decade. I find this a little more difficult for artists of the black diaspora. Perhaps I am not looking in the right places or my knowledge may be limited but I do think this list makes it easier to find some of those artists and their stories. I enjoy their works and exploring their stories so I really just wanted to share what I was enjoying myself.

Do you contact artists before putting them on the directory?

No, I do not contact the artists before I put them on. I didn’t feel it was necessary as I was only including direct links to their website and I haven’t used any images on the site (apart from the thumbnails). I often see websites posting Top 10 lists of artists and I don’t see it as being much different to that. However, if an artist wanted to be removed I would do so straight away.

What problems do you think black artists face when trying to enter the art industry?

I have never attempted to become an artist myself so I have never had first hand experience with these issues. I’m assuming they face many of the same problems which are at large in our society, such as a lack of representation and misunderstanding which leads to a lack of funding and opportunities etc. From my experience, I have found that most of the top artists tend to be male and white. I read an interview with the owner of the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Mariane Ibrahim) where she mentioned that when she attends fairs people assume she is anything but an art gallery owner. Which gives me a small glimpse into the art industry’s attitude. People have even assumed she is a model. I think people will often have a narrow idea of what a black artist should be like and how their work would be. From my research (basically googling stuff) this seemed to be the case. When I was younger and I wasn’t able to attend galleries or exhibitions myself I only had the internet to explore artists work so this website will make access easier.

Have you seen anything else like this?

I haven’t seen a website like this so far. I have seen a few top 10 lists of black artists on websites.

Do you have a background in art?

I have no formal background in art. The only thing I have done is study art at GCSE, I don’t think I was very good. I just enjoy art by visiting galleries, buying art, reading about it and looking at it on the internet.

What would you say to people who think that the platform is ‘othering’ black artists?

I think art by black artists has already been “othered” in a sense. I think that because black artists have been left out for a few decades we should purposely look for art by black artists.  When I initially created the platform I likened it to how art galleries would brand themselves on a particular segment. For example: Amar Gallery only represents contemporary female artists to repair the gender imbalance in the art industry.  This website would have a similar mission but for black artists.

Do you see any negatives to this kind of directory?

I can’t see any negatives to this directory. Perhaps in future when I have done some more learning I may change my mind but at this point in time no. I think the directory is useful.

What has been the public reaction so far?

I have had a positive reaction so far. Everyone who has came across it has liked it and I can see from my analytics that people who have visited the site have gone on to explore a few of the artists websites which is nice. Someone did try and submit an artist listing for one of the founders of the KKK. I found that funny.

What is your future vision for the directory?

I have a few ideas I would like to explore. The overall mission would be to help black artists and galleries make more money. A few ideas I have: A website like Artsy but for Africa, I have also toyed with the idea of using AR so that you can visualize artworks by these artists. The most feasible idea I have had so far is adding dates for gallery openings and exhibitions of these artists. I need to decide where the focus is.

Check it out here!