Sunday, 22 October 2017

Saturday 21st October: Tate Modern, "Soul Of A Nation"

It's the final weekend of the Tate Modern's show "Soul Of A Nation:  Art In The Age Of Black Power" which celebrates the work of Black artists working in America from 1963 throughout the following two decades.  In the height of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of a dream that his children would live in a "nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character".  In conjunction with this, contemporary artists featured in the show were not only creating work to question this notion of judgement but also actively provoke positive change.  Artists joined forces in collectives to strengthen their message and provide a platform for group shows at a time when there weren't other opportunities to share their work.  In addition to their fine art, here you can see walls in Harlem that were painted with bright murals to give the neighbourhood an uplifting backdrop as antidote to the climate of unrest.  This group known as the "Smokehouse Associates" were four artists who chose to use abstract art rather than narrative images to empower change.  One of these was William T. Williams who likened his abstract artistic approach to improvisational jazz and his painting "Trane" featured is named after John Coltrane for his stream of consciousness in sound.

In my highlights here I've also chosen “We Came From There To Get Here” by Joe Overstreet from 1970.  He was an artist from the Black Arts Movement and previously painted backdrops for Sun Ra.  The sentiment of the title seems very poignant today with the canvas pegged out like a tent as a nod to feeling his own nomadic status "with all the insensitivity in America".  And secondly “Homage to Malcolm” by Jack Whitten in 1970, a triangular painting paying homage to Malcolm X who had visited the pyramids, painted with an Afro-comb to manipulate layers of black paint.

All practises, motivations, methods and aesthetics are covered and explained to represent the wide field of work happening united by similar beliefs.  Despite conflicting actions, the movement and uprising has been coherently plotted out in galleries dedicated to artists across the nation.  By looking at the different kinds of art you can get insight into the interpretations of political visions being explored from "Black Power' and an integrated America to the contrasting ideals of an independent autonomous "Black Nation". 

When reviews give an exhibition the title or tag of #MustSee , in this case it is completely justified so if you haven't yet had a chance, today is the day!    

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