Radiant and Radical: 20 Years of Defining the Soul of Black Art


Elizabeth Catlett’s 1968 mahogany sculpture “Black Unity” and Faith Ringgold’s 1967 painting “American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding”

“It will be a happy day when racial harmony rules in this land. But that day’s not coming any time soon. Who could have guessed in the 1960s, when civil rights became law, that a new century would bring white supremacy tiki torching out of the closet and turn the idea that black lives matter, so beyond obvious, into a desperate battle cry? Actually, African-Americans could have seen such things coming. No citizens know the national narrative, and its implacable racism, better than they do. And no artists have responded to that history-that-won’t-go-away more powerfully than black artists. More than 60 of them appear in the passionate show called ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’ now at the Brooklyn Museum, in a display filling two floors of special exhibition space with work that functioned, in its time, as seismic detector, political persuader and defensive weapon. This exhibition, which originated at the Tate Modern in London, asks basic questions about art. What’s its purpose? To deliver a message? Cause a ruckus? Stand there looking pretty? And who is it for? The knowledgeable few? A wide public? These questions were in the air at the time much of this art was being made, beginning in the early 1960s when 15 African-American artists who called themselves the Spiral Group gathered in New York City. Their work opens the show on the museum’s fifth floor. Some of the group’s members — Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis — already had substantial careers. Others, like Emma Amos, the sole female member, were just out of art school. Crucially, several had been at the 1963 March on Washington and were fired up with the idea of infusing art with political content, and in making work that would be, in some way, distinctively black. For artists who worked with figures, this wasn’t a stretch. Alston and Bearden were already depicting scenes of black life, and political protest was part of that life. For Lewis, the choice was tougher. He was committed to Abstract Expressionism, a movement interested in myth and emotion, not marches. Through it he had gained a foothold in a highly segregated mainstream art world. To mix politics with aesthetics was to place himself outside that world. He took the risk. …”
NY Times
Brooklyn Museum – Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
Tate – Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (Video)


Benny Andrews, Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree? 1969

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Black Power, Civil Rights Mov., Happenings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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