There is a very good show on at the Tate until 22nd October, Soul of A Nation, Art in the age of Black Power. I highly recommend it. It will however make you furious. It will do so in two ways. Firstly as a depiction of the repression of black people in the USA in the 20th century it will make you seethe with the injustice of it all. Secondly you are suddenly exposed to all of these top tier artists, almost all of whom you will have never heard of or seen before . How are these people not more famous? The answer is depressingly obvious.
Credit then to the Tate Modern for putting on this show and bring both these things to more prominence. Credit also to all of the artists who gave permission for photos to be taken inside the exhibition.
There were a couple of pieces I did recognise but none of the artists name. Who then did I discover?
One of the first pieces you encounter is Norman Lewis’s America The Beautiful (see above). The background is black and then soft focus in white is Klu Klux Klan figures. What they are up to is not clear but it doesn’t look good. This vague element adds to the power of the pieces.
In one room there are a number of what are called assemblages, sculptures and art from found objects basically, by Noah Purifoy. Very powerful pieces, a more soulful and desperate version of Rauschenberg but a very different message. I particularly liked one piece, hanging on the wall with the wood in it scared by scorch marks (above).
Jeff Donaldson produces these very brightly coloured pieces. The figures and the landscape made up of a kaleidoscope of colours highlighted by gold and silver foil to show things like glasses. This is used in great effect in pieces like Victory in the Valley of Eshu (above left) and also my favourite of his pieces the Wives of Sango (above right), showing this 3 strong battle women projecting powerfully out of the picture.
Wadsworth Jarrel has a similar style but more of a mosaic quality like in Liberation soldiers (above).
Sam Gilliam 1969 is a large pieces hung along most of one wall in the far room (above). It has a grey background and washes of colour and from a distance looks very attractive and complantative but as you get closer you realise it is depicting blood on a road or pavement and the meaning of the whole thing shifts on you. I am not sure if this effect was intended but it works very well.
In the same room are two other abstract artists I liked very much. William T Williams produces these almost graphically designed geometric pieces. The one that looks like a metronome (above left) I am sure I have seen before and the name of the artist range vague bells.
Opposite these is a black triangle, inside of which is an almost black triangle made up of dark reds, greens and blues. It is a Homage to Malcolm (I.e. Malcolm X) by Jack Whitten (above right) and is a very fitting and powerful memorial piece.
Back into abstraction Melvin Williams Curtin for William and Peter (above) is a barbed wire curtain. Simple can be good and this is both of these.
Opposite it in washes of orange, peach and yellow is Frank Bowling’s Texas Louise (above). It is a beautiful piece that hypnotises you with the way the continent of America morphs out of the background.
In the final room there were another series of assemblages, my favourite of which and another highlight of the show was Color in Art by Randy Williams (above). It is the contrast between the shapes, the way it sort of looks like a window that I enjoyed.
The show can be a bit, well depressing but I think a genius move is to leave you on a high and with a feeling of hope and this they do very well with Lorraine O’Grady’s series of photographs Art Is (above). What she did is during a parade got some dancers to go round the crowd with golden frames and photograph people interacting with those frames. Everyone is so enthusiastic and happy, it made me smile and lifted my soul. One thing though. If you go, look at the policemen. What do you notice?
This is an excellent show, both artistically, policitically and culturally. I highly suggest you go.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.