Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name



Art and Art History

First Advisor

Dora Apel


The visual representation of black womanhood is important in understanding black women’s journey toward liberation and empowerment. The use of representations of black womanhood as tools of empowerment is evident through the artwork of Elizabeth Catlett and Mickalene Thomas. Catlett was one of the most prominent black female artists during the 1960s – 1970s, as her artwork and activism expressed the Black Nationalist theories of the Black Arts Movement. Thomas’s artwork and artistic beliefs are in line with many theories regarding post-blackness, such as a reinterpreting of the definition of blackness. Discussing the work of these artists offers a glimpse into the gradual widening of space made available for the black female voice. Within this space, black female artists are portraying the black feminist ideal of self-defined black womanhood. The changes in how each artist addresses the themes of race and femininity throughout their artwork directly relates to the cultural climate of the period in which each artist began working. By dissecting the social and cultural context of the time, I demonstrate the correlating shifts in representations of black womanhood in visual art.