Photo: Michael Oliver

What Black Is This, You Say?

A Public Artwork by Amanda Williams

May 2021 – August 2024


#whatblackisthis    #awstudioart     @storefrontnyc 


What Black Is This, You Say? is a public artwork created by artist and architect Amanda Williams for Storefront’s facade. This multi year project translates to the physical realm, a body of work initiated by the artist on Instagram. 


During its three years on view, Amanda’s piece has presented various shades of black that reflect her interests in Black multiplicities and color theory. Fade to Black (Black) will be on view through August 12, 2024.


The project began as an informal response to #BlackoutTuesday, a social media protest campaign that invited the public to post black squares to their feeds. This “blackout” of communication on June 2nd, 2020 was intended to be a show of solidarity with Black lives and the calls for justice in response to the murder of George Floyd and many others before him. 


“I’ll be honest. I wasn’t feeling the blackout. I hate stuff like that, but I caved. Wanted to be in solidarity. But color is everything to me. You can’t just say “black”…which one?” –Amanda Williams


Drawing upon her past work exploring color theory, Williams sought to bring attention to the plurality, complexity, and nuance of Black experience(s). Over the following five months, in order to challenge the black square as a monolithic representation, she posted 120+ shades or textures on Instagram – each with a corresponding caption. Together, they provided a rich palette of overlapping and divergent narratives and histories that inform Black identity. 


At Storefront, Williams presents a public artwork that more deeply explores these shades. During the first year, twelve of these were painted on each one of the moving panels of the gallery’s facade, serving as hinges between the public realm and the gallery interior. In its second iteration for the season 2022-2022, five new shades are introduced. Currently, this work “fades to black,” as Amanda describes this final phase of her project. What Black Is This, You Say? constitutes a transformation of Storefront’s facade, which all exhibitions during its run navigate and build upon in various ways. 

Alongside this, Storefront will release a publication with writings, reflections, and interviews, related to the work. Together, these discussions and contributions from cultural thinkers such as Roxane Gay, J Wortham and Corrine Bailey Rae, among others, interrogate and contextualize commonly held narratives around Black culture, joy, spirituality, suffering, agency, labor, and more.



What Black Is This, You Say? A Public Artwork by Amanda Williams.
Graphic design by Polymode.
Commissioned and organized by Storefront for Art and Architecture, 2021. 


About the Artist

Amanda Williams is a visual artist who trained as an architect. Her creative practice employs color as a way to draw attention to the complexities of how race shapes the ways in which we assign value to space in cities. The landscapes in which she operates are the visual residue of the invisible policies and forces that have misshapen most major US cities. Williams’ installations, paintings, and works on paper seek to inspire new ways of looking at the familiar, and in the process, raise questions about the state of urban space and ownership in America.


Amanda has exhibited widely, including the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago, and a public project with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. She is a 2018 USA Ford Fellow, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors grantee, an Efroymson Family Arts Fellow, a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow and a member of the multidisciplinary Museum Design team for the Obama Presidential Center. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. Williams lives and works in Chicago.


In the spring and summer of 2021, Williams presented three bodies of work at New York City organizations. In addition to this public artwork at Storefront, they included two projects organized by The Museum of Modern Art: Embodied Sensations, a participatory artwork that considers the transformation of public space during the global pandemic, and Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, MoMA’s first ever exhibition to explore the ongoing impact of anti-black racism on the shaping of architecture and the built environment. 


Amanda Williams was selected as a 2022 MacArthur Fellow.



Groundworks invites one artist to present a public artwork on Storefront’s iconic facade, that will be on display for the duration of a year. Launching with What Black Is This You Say? by Amanda Williams in 2021, this series of annual commissions engage the gallery’s exterior wall with the sidewalk passerby. This initiative locates Storefront’s facade as a site of critical discourse to weave together notions of place and identity, using the built environment to foster understanding around complex ideas of public life. Each artists’ commission celebrates community, and the history and politics inextricably connected to the building of cultural identity within a specific time and context. 



What Black Is This, You Say?  has been made possible through the support of the Ruth Foundation for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the New York State Council of the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; The Storefront Circle and Storefront’s Board of Directors, members, and individual donors.