“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”

Presenting roughly 150 works by sixty African American artists, including celebrated figures like Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Betye Saar, Jack Whitten, Lorraine O’Grady, David Hammons, Faith Ringgold, and Noah Purifoy, this exhibition traces the many facets of black artistic practice during the tumultuous 1963–83 period in America between the civil rights era and the heyday of the Black Power movement.

Is there a distinctive black aesthetic? How should art relate to a systematically oppressed community? Are figuration and abstraction equally valid? Should African American artists aim to succeed in the established (and overwhelmingly white) art world, or should they create their own uncompromised alternatives? Given events such as the Watts Rebellion in 1965, should work that is not socially engaged be dismissed as “irrelevant”? These are among the urgent questions faced by black artists in the tumultuous 1963–83 period covered by “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Presenting roughly 150 works by sixty artists, along with documentary photographs and ephemera, the show traces the many variations in black artistic practice between the civil rights era and the heyday of the Black Power movement. Along the way, it investigates black feminism, the extensive use of murals, collectives such as Spiral and AfriCOBRA, black-owned galleries, The Black Panther illustrations, and other related topics. Participants include celebrated figures like Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Betye Saar, Jack Whitten, Lorraine O’Grady, David Hammons, Faith Ringgold, and Noah Purifoy, as well as still under-known artists like Randy Williams and Elizabeth Catlett.