28 Days of Black Excellence

An ongoing series for the entire 28 days of Black History Month that showcases the inventions, the people, and culture that makes people of the African diaspora so excellent.

New York, NY. The art of Warhol, Basquiat, Lichtenstein abide here. I’m a bit biased because I am currently a New Yorker. A friend of mine, whose father is an artist, told me this story about how Dalí used to stroll through the Village in pink robe and slippers. Though originally from Chicago, this city has made me question my allegiances, primarily because of its art.

Like Paris, or Rome, New York is a wealth of artwork. But if you were to ask any random person from any of these cities where art originated, they might very well draw a blank. Despite what art has become, its humble beginnings tend to baffle the majority of earth’s current residents. Here’s what we know:

South Africa has the earliest art studio, which clocks in at 100,000 years ago. Evidence of the workshop comes from bones, charcoal, grindstones, hammerstones and, most importantly, ochre, an iron-rich red rock. The materials were found in Blombos Cave, about 185 miles east of Cape Town, by Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and his colleagues.

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I’m quite lucky. My father is an artist, and I was exposed to some of the greats rather early in my life. We talked Kandinsky, Picasso, and Toulouse Lautrec at the dinner table. And so I gained a great appreciation for the trade very early on. But now knowing the roots makes it that much more special to me. It’s almost like finding a diamond in the earth, but also learning that there could never be a diamond if there were no earth. Just another, super awesome example of black excellence, when, and where, you least expected it.

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Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.