Shifting Ground

In Celebrating Everyday Black Experiences, Monica Ikegwu and Jerrell Gibbs Shift Perceptions

Monica Ikegwu’s ‘Sister's Keeper’, 2020. Oil Paint, 30in x 48in.

In early spring, two MICA alumni were showcased by national and local outlets for the profound impact their work is having on narratives surrounding the Black experience.

Monica Ikegwu ’20 (Painting BFA) was featured on CNN’s “Art is Life” series during Black History Month. The MICA alum discussed the importance of visibility and emphasized her efforts to empower the subjects of her work. Specializing in Black figurative painting and renowned for hyper-realistic portraits, Ikegwu’s work expands the spectrum of Black representation. She infuses canvas with life, capturing the essence and emotion of her subjects even as she transforms ordinary moments into extraordinary works of art.

Since her graduation from MICA, Ikegwu has garnered international acclaim. She was among the select group of African American artists featured in the 2022 Venice Biennale exhibition, The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined, curated by Myrtis Bedolla H’23 of Galerie Myrtis. An exhibition at Galerie Myrtis later this fall, titled Extensions, promises to further showcase her talent and commitment to redefining Black portraiture and empowerment through art.

Another MICA alum, Jerrell Gibbs ’20 (LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting), was recently profiled by Baltimore’s WMAR, who hailed the Charm City native for using his artwork to fight outdated narratives surrounding Black men. Gibbs discussed his inspirations, noting that he draws from personal experience and Black family life, creating authentic paintings that highlight everything from joy to the mundane. He also stressed that despite career highs — which includes painting the official portrait of Congressman Elijah Cummings — he continues to prioritize family and his personal values, and he urged aspiring artists to embrace their unique narratives.

A highly acclaimed artist, Gibbs’ work can be found in the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, and the X Museum in Beijing, among others. He has shown nationally and internationally, including in the celebrated exhibition Black American Portraits at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work can currently be seen in the group exhibition How do you want to see yourself at Galleria Anna Marra in Rome through May 22.