Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
Tate Modern presents Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a landmark exhibition exploring sociopolitical issues played out among and beyond African American artists from 1963 to 1983. At a time when race and identity became major issues in music, sport and literature, brought to public attention by iconic figures like Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali and Toni Morrison, 'Black Art' was being defined and debated across the country in vibrant paintings, photographs, prints and sculptures. Featuring more than 150 works by over 60 artists, many on display in the UK for the first time, Soul of a Nationpresents an opportunity to see how American cultural identity was re-shaped at a time of social unrest and political struggle.
The show begins in 1963 with the formation of the Spiral Group, a New York-based collective. They questioned how Black artists should relate to American society, with key figures like Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis responding to current events in their photomontages and abstract paintings. Artists also considered the locations and audiences for their art - from local murals to nationally circulated posters and newspapers - with many turning away from seeking mainstream gallery approval to show artwork in their own communities through Black-owned galleries and artist-curated shows. The exhibition uses archive photographs and documentary material to illustrate the mural movement, including the 'Wall of Respect' in Chicago and the 'Smokehouse' wall paintings in Harlem. The way artists engaged with street activism are explored through posters and newspapers, such as the work of the Black Panther Party's Culture Minister Emory Douglas, who declared "The ghetto itself is the gallery".
Further themes investigated in the exhibition include the emergence of Black Feminism through the work of Lorraine O'Grady, Betye Saar and Kay Brown, showing how the period marked a revolutionary moment of visibility for Black women, and debates over the possibility of a Black aesthetic in photography featuring work by Roy DeCarava. The exhibition also spotlights Just Above Midtown gallery (JAM), a pioneering New York commercial gallery that displayed the work of avant-garde Black artists and whose legendary programme spanned innovative approaches to sculpture and performance, using materials as unexpected as Black hair and tights.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks.
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power will travel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas and the Brooklyn Museum, New York.