THE ARTIST THAT EMERGED FROM THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
August 1963 was the height of the Civil Rights movement and its dreams of integration: in its wake emerged more militant calls for Black Power: a rallying cry for African American pride, autonomy and solidarity, drawing inspiration from newly independent African nations.
Artists responded to these times by provoking, confronting, and confounding expectations. Their momentum makes for an electrifying visual journey. Vibrant paintings, powerful murals, collage, photography, revolutionary clothing designs and sculptures made with Black hair, melted records, and tights – the variety of artworks reflects the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work during these explosive times in order to demonstrate how insidious racism was (and is) in a number of different contexts.
Some engage with legendary figures from the period, with paintings in homage to political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane and sporting hero Jack Johnson.
Betye Saar – Largely made assembled works, for which she took racist memorabilia – pamphlets, literature, advertising, much of it found in LA’s famous Rose Bowl market – and subverted it.
Sam Gilliam – In the 1960s and 1970s, Mississippi-born artist became famous for what were labelled his “drape paintings”, tens of metres of dyed canvas draped from the ceiling to make sculptural shapes.
Benny Andrews – After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago he decamped to Manhattan where he had a studio on the lower east side, making collages and paintings depicting African American life, with its references to north and south American iconography and the Black Power movement.
Jae Jarrell – She was one of the co-founders of AfriCOBRA, a black artist movement which drew on the history of African art to contribute to the Civil Rights Movement discourse. Inspired by her grandfather’s career as a tailor, she combined an interest in the craft with her drive to represent the communities of the the black American diaspora, sewing scenes of community and family life onto women’s suits.
William T. Williams – a leading American Abstractionist, who lived in a studio in downtown Manhattan during the 1960s with peers Kenneth Noland, Joel Shapiro, Janet Fish, and William Copley.