Works from the Exhibition: Soul of A Nation: Black Art in The Era of Black Power in 2018 and 2019 at the Brooklyn Museum, NY
The Tate Modern, London, was the organizing force behind this exhibition to display the works of artists who came of age during and after the introduction of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965)
and the emergence of Black Power in the United States (1966 call by Stokely Carmichael, later Kwame Ture, advocating Black community defence, economic independence and pride).
Wherever Death May Surprise Us, 1960s, lithograph on paper. Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Emory Douglas, American born 1943 who stamped this with his title, ‘Minister of Culture, Black Panther Party’
The loose collective name for this grouping of artists is the Black Arts movement. Included are written and spoken word artists, musicians, dancers.
Book cover illustration, 1969. Sonia Sanchez, American born 1934. Elmer Douglas, American born 1943. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2017/18
The period represented in this exhibition is 1958-1983.
Figurative and conceptual work in painting, mural, collage, prints, sculpture, fabric arts reviewed for their aesthetic innovations;
and in four geographical areas: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC and south.
To the ends of narrative, representation, exhortation, education, community organization and support of artists.
America the Beautiful, oil paint on canvas, 1960. Norman Lewis, 1909-1979, American. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19.
The Klu Klux Klan dressed up, carrying the crosses of their hate, on the move at night.
That an exhibition of this scale on this subject did not originate in the United States says everything about the general lack of interest in and a discrimination against the work of African-American artists by the American art establishment over decades.
That very few of these works – almost all owned by individuals or families – are in institutional collections – whether museum or foundation or educational establishment – speaks to this same apathy, negligence and hostility which amount to existential violence.
Portrait of Amiri Baraka, 1967, gelatin print on board. Darryl Cowherd, American born 1940. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum, NY in 2018/19
Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) poet, playwright, activist, founder of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem in 1968 and influential in the establishment of the Black Arts Movement
The Tate Modern called this exhibition Soul of A Nation.
And was it Carl Jung who said that the soul, if not tended, keeps coming back in furious and monstrous forms?
The Racist Dog Policeman, c. 1970, lithograph on paper. Emory Douglas, the Communications Director of the Black Panthers, born 1943. Victoria and Albert Museum, London on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2017/18
The Spiral Group was a collective of 15 artists formed by Romare Bearden, Charles Woodruff and Norman Lewis. Their first aim was to take artists to Washington to attend the March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Their subsequent aim was to see whether they could evolve a ‘Negro aesthetic’, an aim to whose implementation they, eventually, could not agree. The group, however, provided a space and a time for the self-identification, group identification and encouragement of artists with no other institutional support.
The Black Emergency Cultural Coalition was founded by Black artists in 1969 to advocate for more Black representation on New York art museum walls and the hiring of Black curators.
The Studio Museum in Harlem was established in 1968 as also the Brooklyn Museum’s Community Gallery. El Museo del Barrio focussing on the work of Caribbean and Latinx artists of all races opened in 1969.
Untitled, no date, oil paint on canvas. Emma Amos, American born 1937. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
The only woman invited into the group, Emma Amos was primarily a figurative painter.
Eva the Babysitter, 1973, oil on canvas. Emma Amos, American born 1937. Collection of the family on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, printed papers and graphite on board. Romare Beardon, 1911-1988, American. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
The Conjur Woman, 1964, photostat on fiberboard. Romare Beardon, 1911-1988, American. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
The First One Hundred Years: He Amongst You Who Is Without Sin Shall Cast the First Stone; Forgive Them, Father, For They Know Not What They Do, c. 1963-72, oil on canvas.
Archibald Mottley, 1891-1981, American. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Fred Hampton’s Door 2, 1975, acrylic paint on wood. Dana C. Chandler, American born 1941.
In 1967, the artist committed himself to the Black Power Movement after he witnessed the use of violence by the Boston police against a peaceful march. The Black Panther, Fred Hampton, was shot dead in his bed during a police raid. He was one of two Black Panthers killed. He was 21.
American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967, oil paint on canvas. Faith Ringgold, American born 1930. Private loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
U.S.A. ’65, 1965, oil paint and paper collage on canvas. Merton D. Simpson, 1926-2013, American. Brooklyn Museum
Black Unity, 1968, cedar wood. Elizabeth Catlett, 1915-2002. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Front and back
TBD. New York
Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree?, oil paint, fabric and zipper on canvas. Benny Andrews, 1930-2006, American. Private collection on loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
United States of Attica, lithograph on paper, 1971-72. Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.
The artist presents the prison riot at Attica Prison in 1971 which left 43 people dead as an incident in a long history of nationwide violence between the races. People are invited to add facts to the map.
The Kaimonga (‘a group of people working together’ in Kikuyu) gathered together African American photographers.
Their goal was to support and exhibit their photography; and the group continues to this day. Roy DeCarava was its first leader.
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, DC 1963, gelatin silver print. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009, American. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Shadows, New York, 1961, gelatin silver print. Adger Cowans, American born 1936. In the artist’s collsection
Malcolm X, 1961. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Shade cord and window, 1961. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Coltrane on soprano, 1963, gelatin silver print. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Ornette Coleman, 1960, gelatin silver print. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Couple Walking, 1979, gelatin silver print. Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009. Private loan to the Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
The exhibition noted the large place, in the context of segregation, that Black colleges – Howard, Fisk, Talladega – played in the education of Black artists and activists.
Revolutionary Student, 1970, lithograph on paper. Emory Douglas, American born 1970. Victoria and Albert Museum, London
David Driskell, an artist himself, taught at Howard University in the late 1960s and then at Talladega.
The museum notes that it was he who, with the recommendation of the artist and teacher, Charles White, organized ‘Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1750-1950’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976. A first such review.
John T. Riddle and Lev T. Mills taught at Spelman College in Atlanta in the early 1970s.
Fairbanks or Garvey, 1979, screenprint on paper. John T. Riddle, 1933-2002. Brooklyn Museum, NY
The work compares the liberation of Black people with their consumer servitude and the use of Black caricatures to sell.
Of Time, I Weep, acrylic paint and collage on fiberboard, 1968. David Driskell, American born 1931. Colby College Museum of Art, Winterville, Maine on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Ghetto #2, oil paint, acrylic paint and collage on linen. David Driskell, American born 1931. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Le Roi, 1972, screenprint on paper with coloured-pencil additions. Lev T. Mills, American born 1940. Brooklyn Museum, NY
Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones,1934-2014) went through a life change during the ferment of the 1960s. He changed his name and dedicated his work to the evolution of an aesthetic which might aid the liberation of Blacks everywhere.
Los Angeles: Sculpture and Assemblage
Decades of discrimination in the Los Angeles area climaxed in the Watts Rebellion after yet another incident of police brutality. Nationwide disturbances and in LA, six days of rebellion and 34 people dead there.
Pioneer galleries opened for Black art: the Brockman Gallery (opened 1967) and Suzanne Jackson’s gallery (opened 1968). In 1968, the Black Art Council was formed to advocate for the exhibition of Black artists at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Triplical Communications, 1944, acrylic paint on canvas. Suzanne Jackson, American born 1944. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Suzanne Jackson, artist, dancer, set designer opened her gallery in 1968. Her work was very influential in giving space and publicity to many artists including Bettye Saar, Timothy Washington and David Hammons.
She herself was taught by Charles White, the most widely known of Black artists during his lifetime, the teacher of David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall and a generation of artists working today.
Wanted Poster No. 5, 1969, oil paint on board. Charles White, 1918-1979. Private loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19.
An update of the posters used during slavery to indicate that a slave had escaped.
In the lively community of artists using various media in Los Angeles, a number of artists collected street detritus to create art. Melvin Edwards used metal.
Some Bright Morning, 1963, welded steel. Melvin Edwards, American born 1936. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Afro-Phoenix, 1963, welded steel. Melvin Edwards, American born 1936. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Totem, 1966-68, mixed media. Noah Purifoy, 1917-2004, American. Private loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972, wood, cotton, plastic, metal, acrylic paint, printed paper and fabric. Betye Saar, American born 1926. UC Berkley Art Museum on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19.
Equally famous is a quilt made in 1983 by Faith Ringgold which overhauled the story of Aunt Jemima’s life to give her agency and autonomy.
Untitled, 1970, wood, leather, brass, copper. Noah Purifoy, 1917-2004, American. Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Traditional Hang Up (Containment Series), 1969, mixed media. John Outerbridge, American born 1933. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
House of the Head, 1971, acrylic paint, leather, feathers, wood, bones. Betye Saar, American born 1926. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum in 2018/19
Captive Image (Ethnic Heritage Series), mixed media, c. 1971-72. John Outterbridge, American born 1933. Private collection on loan to Brooklyn Museum
Revolution in Our Lifetime, 1969, lithograph on paper.
Emory Douglas, American born 1943 whose his title was Minister of Culture, Black Panther Party