The Black Arts Movement: Testimonials/Documents/Conversations

An issue of: Nka

The Black Arts Movement
Journal Issue Pages: 144 Volume 2012, Number 1 Number: 30 Published: Spring 2012 An issue of Nka
Artists of the Black Arts movement have been a major driving force in the growth of a remarkable, rich, and diverse array of aesthetics and styles, driven by a concern of uniting people of African descent all over the world. They have produced a truly trans-African, as well as transnational, range of voices and artwork. These special issues focus selectively on works by artists who formed and joined collectives such as AfriCOBRA, “Where We At” Black Women Artists, Spiral, and Weusi, as well as others who operated independently within the same aesthetic impulses and ideological framework. Some of the contributions highlight independent pioneers whose work exerted a tremendous influence on the movement, in addition to others who have shared similar concerns without belonging to a specific group. Some essays engage the thematic, aesthetic, and ideological concerns that dominated the works of these artists. These have ranged from responding to the visual tropes of racist and stereotypical representation, to confronting the legacy of absence in the work of artists associated with the Black Arts movement, as well as the neglected legacy of Black Abstraction. All have joined in the creation of a new art and aesthetics, modernist in essence but rooted in the black experience. Some essays by younger artists address representations of blackness as it is informed by emerging discourses in the fields of black art and visual culture from gender, sexuality, and feminist perspectives. They also provide insights into how such discourses are evoked in mapping absence and presence within postmodernist and conceptualist frameworks.


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Planting a Seed: The Brockman Gallery and the Village

LeFalle-Collins, L.

The media are awash in tales of young entrepreneurs recounting their stories of how social media helped them develop and grow their businesses. This is a different type of story void of those tools, the entrepreneur classes, and self-help articles. This essay considers the effects that a strong black community and family had on two artist brothers, Alonzo and Dale Davis, enabling them to open the Brockman Gallery in Los Angeles in 1967. It contextualizes their young lives in Tuskegee, Alabama, where they were steeped in black history and culture and exposed to faculty and college students from African and Caribbean nations who were in residence on the campus. Historical events that led to the opening of the gallery are woven into the text. Founded during the growth of the Black Arts movement, the Brockman Gallery provided early exposure to a number of artists who are today widely acclaimed, including Betye Saar, David Hammons, and John Outterbridge. As the text continues to unfold, a picture also emerges of the Leimert Park Village and the neighboring "Hills" communities of black wealth, the patrons of art whom the gallery hoped to serve.

Suzanne Jackson's Gallery 32 and Los Angeles's Burgeoning African American Arts Community

Peter, C., Willick, D.

This essay reconsiders Los Angeles’s Gallery 32 and its vital contribution to Los Angeles art history from 1968 to 1970. Founded and run by Suzanne Jackson, Gallery 32 exhibited challenging, controversial work and became a gathering place where not only art but politics and society were discussed and explored. As such, the gallery partook of the broad political struggles of the times and contributed to the city’s remarkable artistic diversity.

The Venus Noire

Willis, D., Williams, C.

This essay surveys art, critical writings, and poetry on and around the subject of Sarah, or Saartjie, Baartman, a South African Khoi or San woman exhibited as the "Hottentot Venus" from 1810 to 1815 in Europe. The essay shares the authors’ research methods and ideas about how to contextualize Baartman within a discussion of images of women of African descent, particularly in Western culture.

The Art of Remembering: Camille Billops and James Hatch

Winston, C.

Founded in 1972, the Hatch-Billops Collection houses an extensive archive of African American memorabilia and exists as a direct result of the 1965 "open admissions" policy at the City College of New York, where James Hatch was teaching theater history. Today the collection’s mission is threefold: to collect and preserve primary and secondary resources in the black cultural arts; to provide access to these materials to artists, scholars, and the general public; and to develop programs in the arts that would use the materials in the collection. This essay examines the importance of archiving black American culture and the lives of Hatch and Camille Billops, the artists who have made it their life’s work.

"1 + 1 = 3" Joining Forces: Coreen Simpson's Photographic Suite

Hassan, S. M.

In 1986 Gallery 1199 in New York and the Muse Community Museum in Brooklyn jointly organized a two-part exhibition for "Where We At" Black Women Artists, the collective of African American women artists. The exhibition was an initiative of "Where We At," when its members decided to invite a number of African American male artists to create a collaborative installation exhibition. According to the exhibition organizers, African American artists Charles Abramson and Senga Nengudi, "1 + 1 = 3&qu

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