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James Smalls

The Black Arts Movement spans the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Inherently and overtly political in content, it was an artistic, cultural and literary movement in America promoted to advance African American “social engagement.” In a 1968 essay titled “The Black Arts Movement,” African American scholar Larry Neal (1937–81) proclaimed it as the “artistic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The use of the term “Black Power” originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of “Blackness.”

In addition to “Black Power,” the slogan “Black is Beautiful” also became part of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Cultural Movement (also known as Black Aesthetics). The aim of these maxims was to counter and dispel the widespread notion throughout Western cultures that black people’s natural features, such as skin color, facial characteristics and hair, were inherently ugly. The central purpose was to subvert decades of anti-black rhetoric and “to make African Americans totally and irreversibly proud of their racial and cultural heritage.” Black Arts Movement cultural theorists and artists reasoned that promotion of a black aesthetic was mandatory to help the African American community perceive itself as not only beautiful, but also as proud of the legacy of African American achievement, self-determinacy and self-identification with all black peoples throughout the African diaspora. The tone was militant and separatist, not conciliatory and assimilationist, and resulted in a call for a revolutionary art that spoke to a definable black aesthetic. In ...

Article

Guinean, 20th century, male.

Active in England.

Born 29 February 1935, in Bartica, Guinea.

Painter. Figures.

London Group.

Frank Bowling moved to London in 1952. In 1959 he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art where his classmates included David Hockney, Derek Boshier and RB Kitaj. In ...

Article

Elizabeth K. Mix

(b Addis Ababa, 1970).

Ethiopian painter, active also in the USA. She received a BA from Kalamazoo College, Michigan (1992) and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design (1997). Mehretu simultaneously references and breaks from the history of abstract modernist painting in her works, which combine multiple layers of drawing and painting, and are embedded with appropriated cultural references ranging from corporate logos and architectural structures to art history, comics, and graffiti.

Works such as Dispersion (2002; see 2006 exh. cat., p. 81) first suggest topographical drawings combined with geometric coloured shapes and swirling lines in a controlled chaos that simultaneously deconstructs and regenerates. Her work has been influenced by a range of art historical sources: a Baroque theatricality (alluded to specifically in The Seven Acts of Mercy (2004), inspired by Caravaggio (see 2006 exh. cat., pp. 132–3); Italian Futurism’s anarchistic revolution fueled by speed and technology; and the utopian social visions of Russian Constructivism. Geometric shapes associated with Kazimir Malevich are referenced in ...

Article

Sarah Kate Gillespie

(b Trenton, NJ, 1820/21; d Monrovia, June 7, 1875).

American photographer, active also in Liberia. One of the few African American daguerreotypists whose career has been documented by modern scholars, Washington was born in Trenton, NJ, as the son of a former slave. He became interested in the abolitionist movement at an early age, and worked hard to achieve an education, first studying at the Oneida Institute and later at Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, NH. Washington attended Dartmouth College in 1843 and learned daguerreotyping during his freshman year as a way to help pay for his schooling. He left Dartmouth in 1844 and moved to Hartford, CT, where he opened one of the city’s first daguerreotype studios two years later. By the early 1850s Washington was one of the premiere daguerreotypists in Hartford, catering to a broad and fairly élite clientele. One of his best-known portraits from this period dates from 1846–7, and is the earliest surviving photograph of abolitionist John Brown (daguerreotype; Washington, DC, N. P. G.). Brown is pictured holding a flag, possibly for the ‘Subterranean Pass Way’ (Brown’s version of the underground railroad), in one hand; the other hand raised as if taking a pledge. Despite Washington’s success, he remained wary of race relations in the United States, unconvinced that emancipation would lead to improved circumstances for blacks living in the United States. Closing his studio in Hartford, Washington immigrated to Liberia with his wife and two children in ...