Tate soul of a nation review

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tate soul of a nation review

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power by Mark Godfrey

This exhibit was admirable in that it reexamined the work of some artists who had been somewhat forgotten or whose art has long been marginalized due to racism and the confrontationally politically militant nature of some of the work. Several pieces impressed me a great deal. But I think the organization and presentation of the exhibit itself was problematic.

The historical narrative that the curators propose seems arbitrary and haphazard: why is 1963 to 83 designated the Age of Black Power besides that its a nice, round twenty year period? Admittedly, 1963 seems like a reasonable starting point. It was at about this time that the impulses behind the Civil Rights Movement began to seek more militant political outlets and this was reflected in the work of individual Black artists and artist collectives. The opening galleries show works grappling with the possibility of creating a uniquely African-American art for a new Black Nation.

But why extend the historical narrative to 1983? Certainly, the political heighday of African-American radicalism was long over by then. It is true that some of the younger artists of the 60s were still active in the 80s, and the show traces a few of their trajectories through the decades. But mostly the exhibit itself, which is organized roughly chronologically, reveals that after the mid-1970s African-American artists were turning away from militant identity politics as a focus of artistic expression and embracing broad, contemporary genres such as abstraction.

The curators perhaps go overboard with textual accompaniment with the pieces on display. It would be one thing if the notes provided insight into the given artwork itself. But as so many of the artists have been marginalized or forgotten, the curators feel compelled to give an entire biographical introduction about the artist of each work rather than analyzing the pieces themselves. And because the works of the few artists who have more than one piece in the show are not displayed along side one another, but in a historical chronology, it becomes difficult to keep track of the the various historical figures.

Nonetheless, much of the art itself is very striking, and under-exhibited. Highlights for me included pieces such as Archibald Motleys The First 100 Years: He Amongst You Who is Without Sin; Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do, which should really be the cover for a politically conscious, anti-racist Metal album; Daniel LaRue Johnsons mysteriously terrifying black box series; and the philosophically inclined works of Noah Purifoy- whose assemblages suggest a connection to the ways commodities are circulated under capitalism and the violence and counter-violence that are endemic to the system, and Betye Saar- whose later works suggest an almost Heideggerean regard for the subterranean cultural practices that any people have, consciously or not, at-hand.
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Soul of a Nation Symposium - Crystal Bridges

Soul of a Nation review – the sorrowful, shattering art of black power

It will be a happy day when racial harmony rules in this land. Who could have guessed in the s, 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. This exhibition, which originated at the Tate Modern in London , asks basic questions about art.

These are the critical questions at the heart of this new show, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a landmark exhibition exploring how these issues played out among African American artists from to This terrific and powerful exhibition features more than works by over sixty artists, many on display in the UK for the first time. This show, therefore, is a timely opportunity to see how American cultural identity was re-shaped at a time of social unrest and political struggle. Of course, it is inevitable that many of these artworks seethe with anger and are drenched in politics. Dana C. The bullet-riddled wooden door a testament to the young Black Panther who was murdered in his bed by the Chicago police. The injustice in these is shaming and palpable.

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This huge show is both a visual presentation and a densely worked, heavily documented argument. It is the story of the emergence of black art in America during the fraught, politically contested era of and on. It takes in movements, key historical moments across the nation — the death of Martin Luther King his soaring voice greets us as we walk into the first room , the Watts riots in Los Angeles, the emergence of the Black Panthers — and it shows us the art which emerged as a direct consequence of the struggle to create a black voice, a black identity. What was this art to be? Could there, should there, be a distinctly black art at all? How much of it would come to depend for its effectiveness upon collective endeavour? There are so many questions here sniffing around for answers.

Was abstract art capable of speaking to a black audience? Did such a thing as a black aesthetic exist? Encompassing political posters, photographs, collages, sculptures, films, prints, and paintings, the show demonstrates different ways black artists from across the United States contended with issues of identity and representation and the role of art in a society pervaded with racism. A tale of trauma and revolution as well as strength and hope shines through. Tate curators Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley faced a tough task in pulling the many works and themes into a cohesive whole.


  1. Matt W. says:

    David Hammons Is Still Messing With What Art Means

  2. Sibila O. says:

    What is black art?

  3. Marina M. says:

    Jul 11, Tate Modern, London Searing artistic responses to the agony of America's racial struggle sit alongside powerful abstracts by forgotten artists.

  4. Perweineedi1958 says:

    Share your thoughts and debate the big issues

  5. Brent C. says:

    'The ghetto is the gallery': black power and the artists who captured the soul of the struggle

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