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Amplifying Black and Diverse Histories is the Focus of New Wikimedia Foundation Collaboration with Global Artists

Wiki Unseen project to close knowledge equity gaps on Wikipedia

To kick off Black History Month, the Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, announced the launch of Wiki Unseen, a collaboration with artists aimed at expanding the visual representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Wikimedia projects and advancing knowledge equity.

Launched today, the first iteration of the project, a collaboration with artists from Africa, North America, and the Caribbean, will help to address the visual and written underrepresentation of several Black historical figures on Wikipedia and in media repository Wikimedia Commons. In addition to global artists, the Foundation is collaborating with AfroCROWD.org, a Wikipedia-volunteer led initiative to create and improve information about Black culture and history on Wikipedia, as well as Bēhance, a social media platform that showcases creative work on the initiative. 

Research shows that Wikipedia articles featuring illustrations increase audience engagement and views, creating an additional point of entry for visual learners and expanding understanding of the information presented. With this in mind, the Wikimedia Foundation and AfroCROWD.org worked together to select 20 Wikipedia articles of BIPOC historical figures without visual representation, further collaborating with Bēhance to source a list of artists from the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean to create portraits of each. This year, the artists will create portraits for six of 20 total historical figures. 

The commissioned artists include Enam Bosokah from Ghana, Esther Griffith from Trinidad, and Bukhtawar Malik from the United States. Among the first articles that will feature new illustrations are: Marian Ewurama Addy, William Greaves, Rose Dieng-Kuntz, May Miller, Mercedes Richards, and Asquith Xavier. These portraits will be published throughout the month of February; they include personalities whose images are not freely licensed and therefore unable to be added to Wikipedia articles.  

“Wiki Unseen aims to make Black histories and those of people underrepresented on Wikipedia more visible,” said Anusha Alikhan, Vice President of Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation. “Closing knowledge equity gaps — including visual ones — is key to ensuring Wikimedia projects are accessible to everyone and represent the breadth of global cultures, experiences, and languages. We know that our work is incomplete until the full diversity of our world’s histories is seen.”

When BIPOC histories are told, too often they lack visual representation. Of the 30+ articles in the African Royalty category on English Wikipedia, for example, only three pages picture their subjects. Visual aids and illustrations help people understand and retain information; their absence reinforces and perpetuates biases. 

“The lack of visibility and understanding of these histories within the wider media ecosystem constrains how BIPOC communities are portrayed in news, education, pop culture, the arts, and more. This contributes to discriminatory bias and stereotyping in media, business, and other sectors of daily life, and perpetuates those histories’ continued exclusion from the collective memory,” said Sherry Antoine, the Executive Director of AfroCROWD.org.

Wikipedia is powered by a global community of volunteer contributors working to advance Wikimedia projects in support of a vision to ensure that people everywhere can share in the sum of all human knowledge. A central pillar of the Wikimedia Movement’s 2030 strategy is to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge, focused on communities left out by structures of power and privilege. 

Wiki Unseen builds on the previous efforts of Wikimedia volunteers including Les sans pagEs, a French Wikipedia initiative, and the #VisibleWikiWomen campaign by Whose Knowledge?, which ran similar projects to bridge gender gaps.

For more information about the Wikimedia Foundation and Wiki Unseen, visit unseen.wikimedia.org.

To learn more about how the Wikimedia Foundation and movement are working towards knowledge equity, visit wikimediafoundation.org/opentheknowledge.


About the Wikimedia Foundation: The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia free knowledge projects. Our vision is a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We believe that everyone has the potential to contribute something to our shared knowledge, and that everyone should be able to access that knowledge freely. We host Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, build software experiences for reading, contributing, and sharing Wikimedia content, support the volunteer communities and partners who make Wikimedia possible, and advocate for policies that enable Wikimedia and free knowledge to thrive. 

The Wikimedia Foundation is a charitable, not-for-profit organization that relies on donations. We receive donations from millions of individuals around the world, with an average donation of about $15. We also receive donations through institutional grants and gifts. The Wikimedia Foundation is a United States 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with offices in San Francisco, California, USA.

About AfroCROWD.org: Afro Free Culture Crowdsourcing Wikimedia (AfroCROWD) is an initiative which seeks to increase awareness and the number of people of African descent who actively partake in the Wikimedia and free knowledge, culture and software movements. AfroCROWD has sensitized thousands in its target audience about free culture crowdsourcing and the need to close the multicultural and gender gaps in Wikipedia. AfroCROWD has also held monthly multilingual editathons in partnership with cultural institutions, galleries, libraries, archives, museums (GLAM), colleges, universities and many others including institutions at the United Nations and grassroots organizations.

About Behance: Behance is the world’s largest creative network for showcasing and discovering creative work.

Media Contact:
Tommy Lee; [email protected] 
Amy Lebowitz; [email protected]

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Photo credits

Wiki Unseen Key Image

Wikimedia Foundation, derived work from artwork created by Enam Bosokah, Esther Griffith, and Bukhtawar Malik

CC BY-SA 4.0