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Black Art & Design Juried Student Exhibition: Zara Dixon

Zara Dixon stands next to a painting in a gold frame

Zara Dixon

“The Grim Reaper” by Zara Dixon ’25 (Illustration), currently on display at the Black Art & Design Juried Student Exhibition, is a deeply layered work by a Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design sophomore.

“It’s actually how I started getting into painting more,” says Dixon, who studies Illustration but branches out to work on paintings. This submission, the product of an acrylic painting class, takes inspiration from Kehinde Wiley’s floral portraits and Renaissance paintings of John the Baptist. “The Grim Reaper” portrays a severed head on a platter against a backdrop of striking purple flowers and vines, all encased in a gilded frame. The painting explores themes of Black death, especially “Black male death … Black men deserve to grow old,” says Dixon.

Dixon asked her boyfriend to pose for the portrait and included many details hidden in plain sight referencing his involvement. Several nods to his birthday include a date painted on the hat and the purple flowers in the background. “I wanted to incorporate flowers that meant something for him and represented him,” says Dixon, who painted morning glories, which are September’s birth flower.

Currently in a mural painting class at MIAD, Dixon is exploring this side of her artistic practice. Working on “The Grim Reaper” has sparked Dixon’s interest in creating paintings with deep meaning and social commentary. “I’m working on a piece to do with women and pregnancies,” she explains about her current in-progress painting, which explores themes around bearing a child of color and the “struggles that would come with that.”

As a member of the Black Leaders and Artists Coalition (BLAC) at MIAD, Dixon appreciates all the opportunities that she has had access to through the student group, including working on a recent mural for the Milwaukee Bucks. “[BLAC is] the biggest impact in my art career so far,” she says. Dixon is also enjoying her class on murals. “I’m trying to get into more community based things,” she says. “I think I want to go that route here in Milwaukee. Using murals and beautifying the city is really interesting to me.”

View Zara’s work in the MIAD Black Art & Design Juried Student Exhibition, which is open to the public on MIAD’s first floor in the Community Hub (room 160) and runs until March 1. Keep up with Zara on Instagram and learn more about MIAD’s Illustration major!


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