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Carolyn Lawrence, 'Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free,' 1972. — Picture courtesy of Carolyn Mims LawrenceCarolyn Lawrence, 'Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free,' 1972. — Picture courtesy of Carolyn Mims LawrenceLONDON, July 12 — This landmark exhibition, on view July 12-October 22 at London’s Tate Modern, is a compilation of era-defining works that highlights 20 years of black art and activism in America.

This exhibition examines what it meant to be a black artist in the United States amidst decades of pronounced racism, political turmoil, and the birth of Black Power. The show opens in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights movement and its ambitions of integration, growing into more militant rallying cries for African American pride, autonomy, and solidarity.

The issue of race received a spotlight in music, sports, and literature in American culture, epitomised by iconic figures like Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali (who is featured in an Andy Warhol silkscreen), and Toni Morrison, respectively. Artists engaged with — or created homages to — political leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. Black art was concurrently experimenting with various media as a way to reimagine identity. Featuring more than 150 works by over 60 artists, many on display in the UK for the first time, “Soul of a Nation” is a timely showcase of how American identity was being re-conceived in different communities.

Artists responded to these explosive times by confronting and confounding expectations, using diverse visual means: Vivid paintings, public art and murals, sculptures, collages, photography. The show begins with the formation of the Spiral Group in 1963, a New York-based collective with key figures like Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis, who responded to current events in photomontages and paintings. Instead of mainstream galleries, artwork was shown within black-owned galleries, in addition to visually-focused community activism through murals and circulated posters. The exhibition displays archival photographs and documentary material to illustrate the mural movement, like the ‘Wall of Respect’ in Chicago and the ‘Smokehouse’ wall paintings in Harlem. Black Panther Party’s Culture Minister Emory Douglas declared: “The ghetto itself is the gallery.”

“Soul of a Nation” showcases everything from figuration (Faith Ringgold’s gruesome “American People Series #20: Die,” 1967) and abstraction (Wadsworth Jarrell’s “Black Prince,” 1971) as well as photography (featuring work by Roy DeCarava) and the emergence of Black Feminism and visibility for black women (through the work of Betye Saar and Kay Brown).

Following its presentation at Tate Modern the exhibition will tour to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas and the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Visit tate.org.uk for further information. — AFP-Relaxnews

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