By: Emma Sauer
Kansas City has more to offer than barbecue and sports teams. This is a thriving city teeming with talent, innovation, and excellence, and the city owes much of that to the Black community. From the American Jazz Museum to the AAAC (African American Arts Collective), Black artists have an established presence in Kansas City. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of five Black creators who make incredible art.
Meeks Me Smile Studio
Shawanna Meeks founded Meeks Me Smile to offer unique, and stylish handbags. One night while getting dressed for a night out with her friends, she realized she didn’t have the right handbag to match her fun night. So, she made her own. The shop offers small accessories, wallets, clutch bags, totes, handbags, and more–all with cute and colorful prints. Considering these bags are all handmade, they’re marked at a remarkably affordable price. Costs range from $15 to $155 (not including shipping). Meeks Me Smile Studio also dabbles in furniture design and acrylic paintings.
Sonia Sanchez is a poet, playwright, author, and activist. A major influence in the Black arts movement, she’s received both the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. Her poetry is known for its mixing of musical elements and traditional poetry. Through her poems she celebrates the art of Black English. Sonia Sanchez’s 16 books have moved readers since her first collection of poems, Homecoming, in 1969. Not much of her poetry is free to read online, but you can check out her books at your local library or purchase them.
If you like comics or pop art, you’ll love Arie Monroe’s colorful and expressive art. Her comic Tornado Alley, starring Mainasha and her cat Socks, is a wacky take on the Wizard of Oz, but it’s also been a way for Monroe to to communicate her struggles as a black woman, according to her caption statement on “Block and Delete”, a piece currently on display in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. She also specializes in caricature art. On Redbubble, she has merch available featuring caricatures, the Tornado Alley crew, and other illustrations.
Whitney Manney is both a fashion designer and her independent ethical fashion label of the same name. WM’s clothes are bold, taking inspiration from street art and urban culture. Whitney Manney aims to make clothes that are more than clothes; they make ready-to-wear wearable art. As for the artist herself, she’s showcased her work at over a dozen galleries and runway shows, including the UMKC Gallery of Art. She’s also done teaching partnerships with the HALO foundation (a foundation dedicated to helping homeless KC youth), and other schools around the area.
NedRa Bonds is an activist, quilt artist, and retired teacher in Kansas City, Kansas. Her vibrant, collage-like quilts often make strong statements about the social issues she’s passionate about. Her artwork has been directly inspired by issues of human rights, social justice, race, and environmentalism, to name a few. Bonds also often incorporates elements of satire and political commentary into her art, echoing her principles as an activist. She’s made over 100 quilts since 1989, many that have been shown at different art shows and exhibits in KC. If you’ve spent some time at the Women’s Center, her art may look familiar: for the Women’s Center’s 40th anniversary, she led the creation of our Women’s Equity Quilt!