Much has been said about how young people these days are different from previous generations of young people. The demographic known as Generation Z, or Zoomers, includes those born between 1995 and 2015. This means the oldest of Gen Z are just starting to hit their mid-twenties. It’s easy to deride today’s youth as self-absorbed, TikTok-obsessed people with bad taste in music, but in many ways, they are blazing a new path of their own in ways that previous generations were not able to. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Zers are more racially and ethnically diverse than their predecessors and are on track to be the most educated generation yet. They are also more vocal about, well, everything, from social justice and mental health to climate change and celebrities.
This trailblazing streak is no more evident than in the art world. Successfully building careers in the creative field is just one of the ways that the younger generation are defying the odds – they are artistically expressing themselves more than ever, using social media to promote their talents to the world and securing gallery representation in the process. Ranging from multi-disciplinary artists working with mixed media to traditionalists who stick with classic forms of art such as sculpture, drawings and paintings, below are seven up-and-coming artists that you should know about.
Oscar yi Hou, 23
“Confessions of two Chinatown Cowboys, or: Cowgirl A.B & Cowboy Crane go smoke a cigarette”, 2020
Born in Liverpool, in the UK, Oscar yi Hou is a graduate of the visual arts program at Columbia University in New York City, where he now resides and works. He took up drawing as a young child, learning to paint by copying artists such as Lucian Freud and Vincent van Gogh. Their influences are present in his work today, in his portraits that explore identity and personhood. Drawing on his East Asian heritage, Oscar depicts what he calls “yellow representation” in his paintings of Chinese cowboys, emperors and self-portraits. Using layers of acrylic and oil paints, Oscar taught himself how to blend oils on canvas and mix colors to get specific hues, in a quest to represent culture, family and queerness. His work is currently on show as part of “Breakfast Under The Tree” and exhibition curated by British actor and art enthusiast Russell Tovey at the Carl Freedman Gallery In Margate, Kent in the UK.
Seth Pimentel, 25
Living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was born, Seth Pimentel, aka @African_Ginger, is a visual artist who blends the digital and traditional to create contemporary art. He is known for his illustrations of blurred faces rendered in brush strokes of multiple colors or bold lettering. His work is inspired by his personal experiences, including struggles with mental illness, childhood and relationships. His artwork acts as a “visual bridge” to channel his emotions into tangible pieces to be shared with an audience. Seth’s first solo exhibition ran in February this year at Kalashnikovv Gallery in Johannesburg and he has collaborated with brands such as Adidas, Levi’s, Converse and Adobe.
Maty Biayenda, 22
“Chief Diversity Officers”, 2020
Citing inspiration from “black femininity, sisterhood, and little moments of beauty,” artist Maty Biayenda began depicting Black women in vivid detail in illustrations and drawings as a teenager. Now a 22-year-old textile design student in Paris, the Namibia-born creative aims to show diverse Black femininity in everyday scenarios, as a way to normalize the representation of Black women, from getting their hair braided to conducting meetings in the boardroom. Maty’s artwork is also a form of self-expression, helping the artist to embrace her femme side as well as her African roots and identity. She has taken on a responsibility to challenge the misconceptions that society places on women, saying, “My only weapon is my pencil, I want to do my part and contribute to change the narrative and educate people out of ignorance.” Maty was a contributor to Black Futures, the anthropology book by writer Jenny Wortham and curator Kimberley Drew, and her work has been featured in Senegal’s Dak’Art biennale.
Chidinma Nnoli, 23
“Hold Me While We Wait”
Painting predominantly in oil, Nigerian artist Chidinma Nnoli produces artwork that confronts the socially constructed notions of femininity, religions, identity and culture. She imbues her shadowy, dark-skinned females figures with her personal experiences, such as growing up catholic and its psychological effects. Her first solo exhibition, titled “To Wander Untamed,” was presented at Rele Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria, and she describes the body of work as “a journey towards finding yourself, finding feminism and solace in women on that same journey.” Chidinma’s work exudes a poetic quality, placing her subjects in vintage-inspired settings, where they are framed by floral arrangements and foliage, brought to life by three-dimensional brush strokes of layered oil paints.
David Uzochukwu, 22
David Uzochukwu is an Austrian-Nigerian photographer who discovered the art of self-portraiture as a teenager. He only picked up a camera “just for fun but now at age 22, he has already built up an impressive portfolio of work, with clients that include Nike and Wonderland magazine. David’s images are composed of the human form, usually himself, and frequently placed in a hyper-real and dream-like settings, such as floating in the ocean or sky. His current online exhibition at Galerie Number 8, “Mare Monstrum/Drown In My Magic” features a series of images where Black bodies are visualized as fantastical beings, inspired by mythology and the supernatural. David’s prowess in front and behind the camera have garnered him a huge following on Instagram, as well as awards including EyeEm Photographer of the Year in 2014, Canon x Exhibitr Student Photography Award in 2015. In 2020, he was named “one to watch” by the British Journal of Photography.
Raelis Vasquez, 26
“Mercado en Dajabon,” 2021
Artist Raelis Vasquez paints the people he grew up with back home in the Dominican Republic, where he was born. Now living in New Jersey, he uses his art to reflect on his experiences as an immigrant, even mixing in sand from the beaches of both locations into his art to symbolize migration. From a group gathered at a restaurant for a meal to the colorful scene of a busy outdoor market, Raelis depicts regular people in everyday settings, in a naturalistic manner, as a way to accurately represent his community, personal history and the layered complexity of the Black, Latinx and immigrant experience. He is pursuing his masters in fine arts from Columbia University and was part of 40 artists assembled foe the “Shattered Glass” show at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles.
Tony Gum, 25
Cape Town-based artist and photographer Tony Gum began her creative career as a model and fashion blogger on social media. Her self-portraits are employed as tools for social commentary. At the heart of her work is both her identity as a Xhosa woman and womanhood and humanity at large. By exploring the unfixed nature of identity and self-expression, Tony’s work celebrates the multi-faceted experience of being a woman and she is part of the vanguard of emerging artists showing contemporary African art in a modern light.