Art in the Age of Black Power

 

Today I visited the Tate Modern and among other things saw ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’. This is a temporary exhibit that is running until 22nd October. This was interesting, but of particular interest, as until recently, I taught US politics as part of A Level Government and Politics.

This links to the Black Nationalism section of the ‘old’ Edexcel course in Unit 3C – Racial and Ethnic politics, of which the last students will start studying this September, it is also a theme in the area of nationalist thinkers in the new Edexcel course (and I would expect with other exam boards as well). Had I be teaching this in September I would definitely point my students in the direction of the exhibit; if not taking them on a trip.

The exhibit focuses on the work of Black artists working in America in the two decades after 1963. As well as showing strong communities the exhibit reveals artistic differences in what it meant to be a Black artist at this time. “In 1963, when the exhibition begins, the American Civil Rights movement was at its height. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed his children would live in a ‘nation where they would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Others rejected the idea of an integrated America, and began to speak of a separate, autonomous Black Nation.”  (the text in this paragraph is paraphrased, or in the case of the chunk in quotes – copied – from the gallery guide written by the curators, Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley).

Below are some of the works that I found most interesting.

America the Beautiful  (1960) – Norman Lewis  – the gallery label points out that the title suggests the difference between the way America views itself and the reality.

Fred Hampton’s Door 2 (1975) – Dana Chandler – This was created by the artist in response to the original, an oil painting being stolen. The work is a statement against the Chicago Police who murdered a young black panther, Fred Hampton.

Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree (1969) – Benny Andrews – the artist said about this work “it is a Black person who is shaking his fist at the very thing that is supposed to be protecting him and that he’s operating under.

This exhibit is free to Tate members or £15.00 otherwise.

As you leave the gallery there is a sign encouraging you to hear the curator’s playlist of tracks on Spotify inspired by the exhibition. This is the first time I have seen this at an art gallery – and of course, I immediately listed to this on Spotify – and this playlist would also be useful for teachers of Politics.

The final takeaway from the exhibition was this book in the gift shop “Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This looks like a timely well-authored read, it should be noted that this book is written by a London based author (so not directly linked to Black Nationalism in the 1960s), and I have not yet read the book. You can see an excerpt in the Guardians’ website here.