What does it mean to be Black in the USA? What does it mean to be a Black artist in the USA?
In times like these the art and cultural worlds need to ask themselves those questions. Where’s an artist’s place in a society where culture and beauty are losing their place as tools for a better future? Do we need to re-think and re-shape the language of art to embrace the complexity of our everyday life?
In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, in 1963, artists were asking the same questions. Timeless questions.
What’s art’s purpose and who’s the audience? What’s the medium, the message, the place?
Is it the street the only true place where Black art belongs to? What about galleries owned by Black people? What about the mainstream world outside?
Soul of a Nation: Art in the age of Black Power, the powerful exhibition curated by Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley and currently on at the Tate Modern until 22th October, explores with masterful insight the intersections of art and identity, the methodologies, languages, materials and visions of more than 60 Black artists active in USA from 1963 to 1983.
The exhibition is an epic and unmissable journey through 20 years of Black history, the encounter of politics and art, the birth of a new Black aesthetic which embodies not one but many aesthetics, enlightens the debate around legitimacy and the existence of “Black art” in times of political turmoil, when the same idea of Blackness as a source of pride and sense of identity and community was taking shape.
From the Spiral Group, the New York-based collective who started interrogating the artistic community about the relations between Black art and American society, to AfriCOBRA, the only group to devise a manifesto for Black Art during that period of time, ending up to the “Wall of Respect” and the emergence of Black Feminism with the works of Betye Saar and Kay Brown, the 12-rooms- exhibition showcases the timeless and never-ending debate between figuration and abstraction, Black artist and society, individual and collectivity, street art and galleries, personal and political.
Soul of a Nation is not only the place where crucial questions meet possible collective answers, but also an opportunity to cherish and enjoy 20 years of Black excellence, and its struggle to develop and promote a more inclusive and complex narrative around topics such as identity, visibility and representation.
The exhibition is a vital expression of talent and vision, a celebration of Black art through the eyes and works of Black artists, freed from the White gaze that monopolized the mainstream narrative around Blackness throughout history, both culturally, politically and artistically.
Among the hundreds of crucial works shown at Tate, the rich collection includes also a key painting by American artist Jack Whitten, Homage to Malcolm dedicated to Civil Rights leader and activist Malcolm X, which is on public display for the very first time, and an important fragment of the “Wall of Respect”, a framed photography by Darryl Cowherd depicting the radical leader of the Black Arts Movement, the writer and poet Amiri Baraka, also on display in UK for the first time.
Soul of a Nation is an essential journey through 20 years of discovery, art, culture, identity and activism, a story of artistic encounter and new narratives originated by a thoughtful debate, a diverse artistic conscience and a powerful legacy of political awakening and social change.
When: 12th July – 22nd October 2017
Where: Tate Modern, Level 3, Boiler House (Bankside, London SE1 9TG) Tickets: £6.55 – £16.50
Main image credit: Emma Amos, Eva the Babysitter