Milan Young

GJG Interviews: Black History Month
February 29, 2024
Image Courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery
Image Courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery

To round-off Black History month this February 2024 across North America and parts of Europe, US-based artist Milan Young speaks to Millie Jason Foster, GJG's Director about the importance of supporting Black women in the arts.


Millie Jason Foster: Can you share a bit about your personal journey as a Black woman in the art industry? What challenges have you faced, and how have they shaped your artistic expression?

Milan Young: My first encounter with art was a discovery of Jean Michel Basquiat, and from that point onwards my life changed. I began to learn and read about Abstraction and thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. As a self-taught artist, when I first started creating, there was a lot I didn't know. Unfortunately, there also wasn't a lot of representation for women who look like me. So, when I started taking my work more seriously, there were very few contemporary role models.


I acknowledge my disappointment (and sometimes anger) through my paintings, whereby I would often write about my experiences directly onto the canvas. Within my career to date, I've had people telling me that my art wasn't good or compelling enough, and although I lived through such negative events, I feel as if they have made me stronger and want to work harder. 


MJF: Who are the artists, both historical and contemporary, that have influenced or inspired your work as a black female artist?

MY: Mary Lovelace O'Neal, Cy Twombly, Elaine De Kooning, Jean Michel Basquiat, Genesis Tramaine


MJF: Are there specific themes or messages that you often explore in your artwork, particularly in relation to the experiences of Black women?

MY: Usually, I just talk about how we are the most disrespected minority. I like to incorporate chaos into my works - it's a sort of release of the anger I feel. A lot of my paintings are somewhat informed by my feelings towards the exclusionary sides of the professional art world, and sometimes just the state of the world in general. 


MJF: In the context of Black History Month, how do you see your role as an artist in promoting awareness and understanding of Black women's contributions to art and culture?

MY: I feel as though continuing to create works is the best way raise more awareness. I believe it is my job to show that we are just as capable as the few artists who make it to these huge exhibitions you see around. I did not reveal it up until now, but I'm planning to work on a series revolving around the injustices Black women face in the art world. My aim and my role is to show people just how talented, amazing and resilient we are.


MJF: As someone who has navigated the art world, what advice do you have for emerging artists trying to establish themselves in the industry?

MY: Take yourself seriously, keep developing your skills, and keep pushing to open doors. 


MJF: What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Black women in the art industry? How can the art community at large contribute to a more inclusive and equitable space?

MY: My hope is that people will start to develop individual taste and stop following shallow trends. As a collector, I believe that you should collect works that deeply resonate. I'd also love to have a light shined on underground artists. I didn't have schooling, or connections; I have seen the most amazing pieces from artists who were, and still are, completely underrated. The art world should find a way to support and promote these kind of creatives too.