The opening room threw us straight into paintings full of the colour, imperialism and injustice of Uncle Sam’s America, where the stars and stripes featured heavily. There were striking collages, black and white photography annuals, poetry, sculptures, but most of importantly – an incredible and eclectic documentary display of art by black artists from the mid 1960’s America onwards. There was an unmistakable sense of a contract broken for black Americans who had believed in the promise of the land of hope and opportunity. A sense of anger and betrayal seeped from most of the artworks but also was also a power and connectedness in them – a unification against the systematic racial injustice that had endured long after the abolitionists had passed the 13th amendment.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were featured in many of the artworks, but lesser known archetypes such as Aunt Jemima and ghetto fabulous soul men who roamed the streets of Manhattan in white pant suits and cigars. There was also a room full of striking abstract artworks.
The abstract was of particular interest as some of the abstract artists felt compelled to present their art about more of the ‘black experience’ and encountered criticism for their abstraction. Is is imperative that a person’s race must be the sole focus or object of their work, or should it be of no more consequence than the colour of their undergarments? As a poet, I write about what comes into my heart, head and pen to write. Some is personal, some political with a small ‘p’ but I would surely feel constrained as an artist if I were expected to write only about matters relating to my race. This visitors comment about less abstract art made me think: I guess it’s all a question of taste.
And for my own feedback? It’s on for a few more days, if you can, try to check this exhibition out, or at the least tune into the wonderful Soul of A Nation playlist on the Tate website. Keep the funk soul brothers and sisters 🙂