Monday, February 24, 2014

Revolution!: Works from the Black Arts Movement at the Brooklyn Museum

            To attain racial justice, there needs to be cultural awareness in addition to social, political, economic, and intellectual awareness, which led to the start of the Black Arts Movement. The Black Arts Movement was the cultural aspect of the Black Power Movement during the 1960s and the 1970s. The art pieces from the Black Arts Movement were from various cities, ranging from New York City to San Francisco. However, the artwork from the Black Arts Movement all had a similar goal: for African Americans to recognize their full humanity and to advocate for social justice in an environment ridden with racial inequities and oppression.
            The artwork from the Black Arts movement is what a lot of scholars would consider to be “unorthodox.” Since African American art was often excluded from contemporary museums during the 1960s and 1970s, African American artists often did not adhere to the stylistic elements of the more mainstream art pieces found in museums. Rather, artwork during the Black Arts Movement served to educate and empower black communities.
            Here are my two favorite pieces of the Black Arts Movement in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit:
1.     Casper Banjo, A Black and White Situation, 1976

 The background of the art piece is a brick wall which symbolizes the barriers that prevented African Americans to attaining rights that would guarantee full citizenship to them in American society. The black and white hands, of course, symbolize race. The stylistic elements of the piece are not completely symbolic, however. In addition to symbolizing race, the black and white hands reflect the pervasiveness of graffiti in Oakland and the Bay Area in California.

2. Jeff Donaldson, Victory in the Valley of Eshu

This art piece is of Donaldson’s parents depicted as African ancestors. Donaldson’s mother is wearing a necklace with an ankh, which symbolized life in ancient Egyptian society. Donaldson’s father holds a Shango dance wand, which has to do with the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. Eshu, which is in the title of the piece, is also a Yoruba god. Donaldson’s piece highlights the role of the Africa and its diaspora in African American culture.

            Although my favorite art in the Brooklyn Museum is still ancient Egyptian art (which I mentioned in my last piece), I found the artwork from the Black Arts Movement to be extremely significant and meaningful since it highlights the role of culture in social movements for racial justice.
            Also, the incorporation of art and culture into social movements is not only significant in African American society. Last week, I saw an art piece on the Internet. The piece is located in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, which is in the Borderlands, an area of hybridity of Anglo and Chicano culture, but also an area of violence. It says, “Sin Cultura…No Tengo inspiracion ni Corazon.” (“Without Culture…I have neither inspiration nor heart.”) The role of culture in the fight for justice brings a sense of awareness and passion in marginalized groups in both the United States and around the world. On a concluding note, here is the piece:

                                                                - Jacqueline Retalis

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