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Modern Portrait Artists Embracing Diversity

The last time you walked through an art museum, did you notice any portrait artists embracing diversity? 

Sure, you more than likely noticed a wealth of portraits hanging on the walls. And unless you were in a museum of contemporary art, many of them were probably commissioned by wealthy white patrons. The pieces themselves may have portrayed stereotypes of race, gender, sexuality, and class. 

These days though, portrait artists are redefining (or trashing altogether) those stereotypes and demonstrating diversity in portraiture. We’ll take a look at ten contemporary artists who, according to Rise Art, are doing just that. 

Farwa Moledina

Moledina has long been interested in how the western historical art narrative portrays the Muslim woman. She is curious as to how this narrative has impacted the way they’re viewed in the contemporary world.

Through the use of pattern and textile, she explores these issues utilizing Islamic Design Principles including recurrence, symmetry, and abstraction. The use of textile is key because it was once considered merely a domestic (i.e. female) craft. It has since evolved to being reclaimed by women artists in the context of the patriarchal narrative.

Check out the work of Farwa Moledina.

Liu Xiaodong

To look at Xiaodong’s visual art is to see compositions painted with loose and casual brushstrokes heavily layered with meaning. “When I paint someone, I want to capture their environment, their living state,” he says. “I want to show the personal story behind the image of the person.” 

His works demonstrate a varied world rich in diversity where family and collective values are a means for fraternity and peace.

Check out the work of Liu Xiaodong. 


Àsìkò opts for photography rather than painting. His portraits celebrate the possibilities of African diasporic identity. Although living in London, he explores portraiture as a means for how he interprets his African (Yoruba) culture. His art is rooted here.

His photographs invite and encourage conversation about how he sees himself in the world. Among his multiple series, he alternatively focuses on a different aspect of Yoruba culture as symbolized through the female figure.

Check out the work of Àsìkò. 

Lishan Chong

Many of us try to hide our emotions from one another. But artist Lishan Chong uses portraiture to explore such emotion. Her portraits display figures experiencing fragility (such as crying) but in bold colors that elicit a sense of catharsis. 

For Chong, it’s the process rather than the finished product that’s important to her. As such, she does not stick to a specific medium or style but appreciates randomness.

Check out the work of Lishan Chong.

Toyin Ojih Odutola

Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola creates intricate portraits in black ink pen. Considered ‘drawn stories,’ she is taken by the concept of the topography of skin as a metaphor and a marker. Her renderings of Black bodies appear as figures of power and presence in polished bronze. 

Her portrait of author Zadie Smith in the National Portrait Gallery in London has the distinction of being the first of a woman with an afro in the gallery.

Check out the work of Toyin Ojih Odutola.  

Christopher Smith

When he was in high school and deeply closeted, self-taught photographer Christopher Smith used self-portraiture to explore his identity as a gay man. Doing so allowed him to embrace who he was as he expressed his sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and beauty. These were aspects of his life that he buried or just couldn’t see in real life. 

He posts pictures of himself on Instagram as @mechrissmith, though is adamant that he isn’t trying to generate any sort of mystique.

Check out the work of Christopher Smith.  

Savana Ogburn

Identifying as non-binary, Savana started making work when they were 15.  They contributed to the magazine Rookie which was geared toward queer people and young women. It was while working toward their BFA in photography that they began to fall in love with the queer community and realize their own identity.

They are now a photographer, collage artist, and set designer exploring femininity and queerness through the use of bright colors and textures.

Check out the work of Savana Ogburn. 

Nelson Makamo

Nelson Makamo’s expressive portraits of young South African children are a refreshing change from the popular motif that shows them as passive victims of poverty. Makamo takes a more optimistic approach – showing them as active, playful, and just starting to see the beauty of the world.

Optimism is a central theme of his works. Given this, it makes sense that Makamo’s art donned TIME magazine’s 2019 cover referring to it as “The Art of Optimism”.

Check out the work of Nelson Makamo. 

Nilupa Yasmin

Along with being an award-winning artist, Nilupa Yasmin is also an educator. Drawing from her South Asian heritage, Yasmin embeds remarkable self-portraits into large-scale installation pieces she weaves. In the images, she is dressed in various clothing including headscarves, jewelry, and her other’s traditional wedding dress.  

Her pieces explore the ideas of culture, identity, home, and a sense of belonging as a British Bengali Muslim woman.  

Check out the work of Nilupa Yasmin. 

Jenny Sampson 

Inspired by female and non-binary skateboarders in California, Jenny Sampson found them “so cool, so tough, so fearless, and clearly breaking down gender barriers.” Using tintype photography, Sampson now immortalizes the skate community through her portraiture. 

One of her most striking subjects is a Wheelchair Motocross skater who is 60 years old and continues to skate in her wheelchair. 

Check out the work of Jenny Sampson. 

Inspired by Portrait Artists Embracing Diversity?

Every one of the above portrait artists embracing diversity took their own unique path to become the artists they are today.

If your child is drawn to the arts and you believe he/she/they would thrive in an artistic community, then contact us today to take a tour of our arts academy middle/high school.

And give them the chance to explore who they truly are through art. 


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