Exhibition: Soul Of A Nation

Here it is, a collection of artwork by black artists artwork that you wouldn't necessarily called overlooked but ignored by the mainstream in the past. The Tate Modern has brought together a collection from the turbulent times following the 1960's, exploring both political and cultural changes. It does not skim the surface nor hold any bars, covering almost two decades starting with the March on Washington. The topics explored in each room of course evoke a variety of emotions, from the outset I knew I was going to see references to slavery, racism, police brutality and barbaric acts of violence. Contrasting this I also knew I'd be uplifted with a sense of resistance and pride.

 

Being a fan of symbolic imagery and colour there were specifics that struck a chord with me 

such as Room 5 which held Africobra. Africobra-‘African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists’ saw a collective of Chicago artists, members included Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Gerald Williams, Barbara Jones-Hogu and more. 

 

My personal favourites from this selection are ‘Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free’ empowering words used with images of movement and music presented in explosive colour.

Unite by Barbara Jones-Hogu emits defiance with men and women with fists raised underneath the words ‘Unite’ the contrasting hues is a great image.

 

Moving through the rooms you are presented with different mediums, the photography was eerily symbolic, at the same time capturing the culture and emotions of black America in that era. From happy scenes of street parades full for smiles and dancing, to run down inner city housing, showcasing the struggles of poverty and sense of oppression. The other darker topics I'd expected to see were present on a large scale, with pieces such as ‘Curtain’ which is imposing not just because of its sheer size, but also because of the materials used by Melvin Edwards connected to both slavery and incarceration, barbed wire and chains. 

 

The effortless style and self confidence is on full display, whether its was Barkley L Hendricks self portrait with an S on his chest, his fresh afro and aviators appearing somewhat iconic on canvas. Again with his painting 'Whats Going On' which was a personal favourite featuring black men and women, suave in white suits against a white background with one of the women being naked. With the piece being named the iconic song by Marvin Gaye, the piece is said to be inspired by friendly greetings which can be heard in the opening of the song with.

 

Overall it was great to not only see all the different artwork celebrated together but also shedding light on how black artists from across the USA created some of the most vibrant, powerful and politicly engaging art of our lifetime. I would highly recommend it as it helps pushes the door further open on how black artists expressed not only them selves but their culture during such hard times.

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October 29, 2018

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