Soul of a nation is a very breathtaking exhibit. It takes up two floors on one side of the museum, and it is filled with artwork that sends a strong message about african american lives in America. One painting that really struck out to me in the exhibit had to be Archibald Motley’s “The First One Hundred Years: He amongst You Who Is without Sin Shall Cast the First stone; forgive Them Father for They Know Not What They Do, circa 1963-72.“My first reaction when I saw this painting was complete horror but as I started to really analyze it deeper I realized that as horryfing as this is, it really is a representation of the reality of America in years of 1963-1972.
From the start, I felt as though my eye didn’t know where to start because of the fact that there is just so much going on in the painting. This painting is a medium sized oil paint on canvas and the painting has very dark hues of blue but the blue also makes the small hints of red really pop out. My eye immedietly goes to the only part that is light blue, in the painting which is where the tree is. When the eye follows the branches, it can immediately find the haunting faces of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King that are hung on the train. Right under the face of John F I see something that reminds me of stained glass that usually belongs in a church. However, a part of the glass has been shattered right where a figures head is at. My guess is that the figure is Jesus. As the eye follows the branches downwards, we also see a disturbing image of a lynched body next to the statue of liberty. The eye keeps on being guided towards the bottom and this is where we see the blue color becomes darker. The red color becomes more striking when we see the red in the KKK member, in the burning cross, the fireman hat, and as our eye moves to the right we see striking red confederate flag, the blood coming out of the pipe of the house, and the devil that is standing next to the dove. The lines of this painting are fairly straight when we focus on the tree and the house but they become rounder once we focus on the figures ofthe painting and faces that are shown. It’s interesting to see how the darker colors on the left are brought forward with the light color in the background and on the right we see the darker color in the background with aspects of light color in the forefront. Something that I also noticed was the brushwork. The brushwork is precise in the tree and house but it becomes the opposite in the rest of the painting making me feel like everything is in motion and happening simultaneously.
The subject matter seems to be pretty obvious. It shows the vicious crimes that were done in the name of racism. We have the subject of murder come about in just the tree by itself. The faces of two significant figures who were brutally murdered because of the positive impact they had on race issues during the 60’s. We also see the KKK being represented by a member being in the front of the painting and the burning of the cross. The painting also has the representation of the marches that were done. The signs that are shown say “we want to vote,” “we shall overcome,” “freedom,” “we want to vote,”and “black power.” In contrast, we have messages that many white people had for black people which were “go home niggers and get yourrelief check,” “America for whites. Africa for blacks.” On the right, we see a lot more symbolism. We see a skull which can represent all the death along with the blood coming out of the house, we see the devil next to a dove which can represent how evil was always alongside the peace that African Americans wanted, and we also see slavery being represented by having the women on the far right picking cotton. All these things represent what hundred years of racism looked like.
This was Archibald Motley’s last painting after five decades of being an artist. Motley was known for painting pictures of black social life. With this painting in particular, it’s almost as if he went out with a bang. This painting is so chaotic and has so much going on and it really does capture the horrors of American history.
The Brooklyn museum’s ancient Egypt exhibit was truly a spectacle. The exhibit displayed many ancient artworks, but the one that caught my interest was the statue of Queen Ankhnes-meryre ll and her son, Pepy ll. The first thing I noticed about it was the material that was used. It was carved out of a glassy stone that had a beige/ivory color. Its condition has remarkably been preserved after thousands of years. This is significant because it means that the queen and her son were very important figures because of the quality of material that was used to sculpt them.
The second thing I observed was the queen sitting on what appears to be a step, cradling her son. The child can be identified as male because of his head dress. His size compared to his mother can determine that he is still young. Another thing I noted about the sculpture is that both the queen and her son’s feet are rested on a platform. This might represent their status and god-like figure.
Lastly, I noticed that the queen and her son are not facing the same direction. The queen is the face you would notice first. This could represent the importance of her role in raising her heir and the future of Egypt. It could also represent the role of women in general during this time in Egypt. Women were responsible for raising the children of the future. In some aspects, they were the most important member in the family.
In the Soul Of The Nation exhibit, There were many pieces that represented the different kinds of discrimination amongst people of color. One piece that I found interesting was “Did The Bear Sit Under a Tree”, by Benny Andrews. The first thing I noticed was the medium used to create this piece. A combination of fabrics were used in the flag, shirt, and canvas. Paint was layered on thick, as if the painter was angry and slapping paint onto the canvas. Lines were not straight, and the stars on the flag were not uniform in size either. I believe the artist’s intention was to send a message rather than creating an art piece for its aesthetic. I also noticed the various splatters and drips distributed on the flag and the black man standing behind it. The American flag is rolled up, revealing an angry black man. He is holding his fists up at the flag. I think that the message of this painting was to show the hypocrisy of the American flag. The flag symbolizes freedom and equality, but hiding behind it is the tyranny of American history. The man is depicted with a zipper for a mouth. African Americans were not able to exercise the same freedoms as other citizens. The zipper symbolized the censorship of their voices. This piece along with the other artworks in the Soul of The Nation exhibit, show us the systematic oppression of African American in American history. It allows us to understand the pain and frustration of these people even if you weren’t there at that time.
Part 2: Soul of a Nation
The entire exhibit was so beautiful I wasn’t sure which Art piece to choose but when I finally saw, “Revolutionary” by Jarrell Wadsworth, I knew that this painting would be the piece I chose.
The painting is of a black Woman wearing what seems to be a uniform to fight in, with her fist clenched around a microphone or walkie talkie, and her mouth open wide. The bullets on her suit seem to be made with colorful crayons. I saw this as the woman using anything she has, even crayons, to fight for what she believes in. She may not have much but at least she has something. There are so many words that its hard to read what’s written but if you focus on one spot you can see the one word, I believe the artist is trying to show that the amount of problems that she has is a lot and if you look at it from far you wont be able to focus and change it, but if you start by focusing on one place, at one word, change can start to happen. This painting brings change along with beauty.
I chose the painting because I like the message, and that from far away you can’t really tell that there are words but the closer you get the more you see. I also really liked the meaning behind it and that it was quite obvious what it was.
Although, I was anticipating all of the works I would encounter at the Brooklyn Museum, I was most interested and excited to explore the Soul of a Nation exhibit. This is an exhibit that now holds a special place in my heart after experiencing it and getting to see the work of many Black artists and the different depictions of blackness across the US (NY, Chicago, L.A.). One of my favorite parts was all of the work depicting the Black Panthers and their movement. I’ve always had a fascination with the Black Panthers movement because of the stories my dad would tell about them and things he experienced growing up in the era of their movement.
Although, this part of the exhibit was something I was increasingly interested in, I found myself instantly drawn to this painting of the American Flag, named American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967 by Faith Ringgold. I went back to this piece about three times, each time finding some new meaning and new emotion in regards to it. I chose to post this piece because in this recent political climate and over the past few years, more and more people have become vocal about the oppression faced by Black people everyday. In this work, it depicts that in America we all stand united and in solidarity, but in reality once you look beyond this stance it can be seen that that isn’t the truth. The oppression of Blacks had never diminished and as said previously, can still be seen today. This piece relates to the rest of the exhibit because the main focuses of it are discrimination and oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement that fixated on fixing these problems. This piece embodies both discrimination and oppression of Blacks, even though we are all given these rights under the Constitution and should be united from it, African Americans had a small chance at escaping oppression and discrimination. The colors of this work are vivid and saturated, which instantly draws your eyes to it and makes you begin analyzing it. Also, shading and shadowing are used to clearly show facial features. The color that draws your eyes in the most is the red, which is used for the stripes on the flag as well as the blood that is dripping from those stripes, once again showing not only emotional pain, but physical pain.
While I found my ventures in the Ancient World exhibit of the Brooklyn museum to be knowledgeable and enjoyable, I found myself eager to reach the second part of this assignment. I already knew that in exploring the Soul of a Nation exhibit of the Brooklyn museum, I was going to gain a better understanding of the mental and emotional labor Black American artists poured into their art two decades after 1963 (an integral time period in American history for the black community). Considering the times we live in today, it is so important to support Black American artists and have an open and accepting environment where their art is allowed to flourish and where their stories are their own, told through their voice and their voice only.
The piece that struck me the most was Sam Gilliam’s painting, April 4th. In using formal analysis to assess this powerful work, we’re all inclined to first take note of the size of it. I don’t buy picture frames and I’m not good at math, so my words will have to do the size of the painting some justice. It is colossal, taking up a good chunk of the museum’s wall. It was the first painting I had come across while walking through the exhibit and I had to stop. The size itself tells us something about this piece, that the emotions that have inspired the painting are far too big to hide, the loss it’s suggesting is not only a prominent one but a poignant one. Gilliam used acrylic paint in this particular work of his and the most prominent colors seen are purple, red, black and white. All of these colors work together to further invoke feelings of sadness, loss and, even before reading what exactly this painting commemorates, violence. When honing in on the red blotches, which look like blots of blood, the violence is expressed in shapes that look like bullet wounds to me. It is a beautifully composed mess. It almost looks as though the colors are melting into one another (almost like painted rain against a windowpane), but not enough so that you can’t address each of them a purpose of their own. When reading about this piece further and educating myself on where Gilliam’s piece is derivative of, I discovered this work is in homage to Martin Luther King Jr. on the first anniversary of his assassination. The colors of the painting reaffirmed my initial response of it being a melancholy piece that encapsulates loss and violence. The purple can be seen as a magisterial and the red marks (as I had suspected) might suggest bloodstains. The coupling of the two colors pay a respectful homage to Martin Luther King Jr. and appropriately address the loss (of not only who he was but who he represented for the black community) as tragic and detrimental. While the red blood splotches don’t monopolize the painting, they are there and representative of M.L.K.’s own fatal wound shots, the blood that will never wash away because they are stained on the hands of the U.S. government.
Painting Name: Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free (1972)
Artist name : Carolyn Lawrence
On initial sight of the painting Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free,1972 by the artist Carolyn Lawrence, it jumps at you with a bold range of colors. The acrylic paints provide vibrant edges and help separate the painting into sections without breaking off of the bigger image. It looks to be a compilation of six human figures doing different actions. Attention can be drawn to the most frontal positioned girl using a drum-like instrument. The various bright colors along the clothing bring the eyes toward the face. One can describe the colors to move from left to right. Many of the brighter colors can be seen more towards the right side of the painting compared to the left side. This could be on purpose judging by the palette of colors from one side to the other. The text spread out through the background say “Keep Your Spirits Free” move around the figures like a stream of water filling up the empty space. Along the top-side of the painting, there are stripes filling in the “sky” and what can be described as North America and Africa. This plays into the composition that could imply the influence from both countries. Each figure is performing a different action and seem to reflect off of “black” culture. The varying colors of the text is like a riot of something. If it were in a more plain text, the words would’ve probably lost it’s eye candy from repetitiveness. The artist most likely only painted the words “Black Children” once in the center because it draws the least amount of attention yet the most when observing the different elements piece together when stepping back for a bigger picture. The painting spans 48 1/2″ x 50 1/2″ x 5 1/4″ and is displayed with the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The scale of the painting helps bring out the colors as well as the text for a greater comprehension. The smaller details are easier to spot and the artist did a good job filling in the what would have been empty space with color and subtle meaning like the colored silhouettes of two countries.
Overall, this painting brings various elements together with color mainly. As observed, the palette of colors move slowly over the painting as the figures stand out yet blend into the words of “Keep Your Spirits Free” In the description of the exhibit, the artists step out to tackle on unjust social conditions by making art. This painting particularly show some insight that black people have culture and are just as human as everyone else in the world.
The entire Egyptian exhibition was really beautiful, it consisted of a lot of sculptures and models of Egyptian life and objects. The artwork that captured my eye immediately in the midst of all the others was, the Statue of Queen Ankhnes-meryre II and Her Son, Pepy II (author Unknown). The Sculpture is of a Queen (Ankhnes) holding her son, Pepy II. Immediately the size of both is noticeable as Queen Ankhnes is at least three times the size of Pepy II. Pepy II is on Ankhnes’ lap and facing East, as Ankhnes is facing North. The size could be a symbol of how powerful the mother-role was as she would serve as not only the domestic role but also as a protector of the future generations of Kings/Queens. Her role as a protector can be observed as Pepy II “clasps” her hand, clasping being a sign of reassurance and presence of one and their protection. Pepy II’s feet also are on a block almost half the size of his mother, this could further represent his King stature and how he will always be on some sort of pedestal in relation to the other Egyptians. The direction in which they’re facing can symbolize how they own have their own focuses or visions- the Queen ensuring that she’s fulfilling her role as a mother to nurse her child and still “act as regent” and Pepy II, facing his own direction can symbolize his priorities or focus of being “king as a small child”. The fact that he was king so young can also be another reason as for why he is so small in comparison to his mother, since he is not yet very powerful. It is made out of Egyptian alabaster which has a yellowish-brown town. Alabaster is very easy for drawing and carving. The neutrality in color could show that maybe there was no large gap in importance nor dominance between the two at that specific time- in Egypt Red usually symbolized Males and their dominance, and Yellow was normally used for Women. Or the lack of color can simply show us that there may have been a lack of color resources for art when this was made.
In Soul of a Nation there were very colorful paintings, some very colorful some abstract, some very simplistic, but all with a very powerful message. The artwork that seized my attention was the mahogany sculpture, “Black Unity” by Elizabeth Catlett. The sculpture is very large and is simply a sculpted closed fist, which has been established for unity- especially Black unity. The size of the sculpture is very big, which could represent a unity in activism for Black rights as many have come together to stand up for and reclaim their rights, especially in the last 50 or so, years. The use of making the fist Mahogany, a very deep brown, can be a literal representation of a Black hand. The sculpture is placed on top of a white square base, which could be used for contrast- to make the fist stand out greatly amongst everything else, almost as negative space- or simply for positioning, to re-imagine a world where Blacks are no longer subjected nor inferior to whites. The significance of this fist can extend largely, as it can be intended for an audience of whites as well, and make them feel powerless or serve as a reminder to make them remotely aware of racial injustices that have occured. When I was at the exhibit, I witnessed a lot of people, but a majority were white or tourists. Making this sculpture so big and noticeable, even the placement of it being in the middle of the floor with all the other artwork surrounding it can be a stamp or symbol for Black power and make everyone, especially the white people aware, as it is something you can’t miss nor ignore.
The Soul of A Nation exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum was extremely powerful and moving. Much of the work focused on discrimination and oppression that African Americans have had to face, as well as how many overcame it. There were many photographs, paintings, and creations, but the thing that caught my attention the most was actually one of the smaller creations. Titled “Traditional Hang Up”, it is a piece by artist and activist John Outterbridge and was part of his Containment Series of 1969. Outerbridge’s Containment Series was a collection of art that depicted how African Americans and the lifestyle they carried was very contained. They were restricted from any upward mobility due to legal segregation laws, and were forced to live in subpar conditions.
The sculpture itself, is a metal T-shape with the American flag going across the top, and circular metal fragments going down the bottom. This piece was very intriguing to me because it was up to each individual to interpret the meaning. On the card next to the work, the only information available is the artist, and the collection that the art is part of. The way I interpreted this piece was that our country had progressed so far at the expense of African Americans and immigrants in general. The circular fragments of metal running down the T-shape resemble skulls, and they are what’s holding up the American flag. To me, this symbolized all the deaths and selfless sacrifices that had to occur, in order for our great nation to be in the place that it is.
Brooklyn Museum Assignment- Part 2: Choose a work from Soul of a Nation that spoke to you. Why did you choose this? How does it relate to the rest of the exhibition? Use formal analysis to talk about the work and why you chose it.
In the Soul of a Nation Exhibit, the piece that most spoke to me was Freedom Now by Reginald Gammond. The painting is average sized and like most pieces in the exhibit, it was in shades of black and white, but what interested me the most is that it captured a very important moment in African- American history: The civil rights movement, which was at its peak when the Reginald decided to create his piece, 1963. The painting was completed in black and white which I believe is trying to convey the message of how civil rights is a black and white issue in that you are either for civil rights or you’re against it. In the painting, there is an illusion of a large group that is part of a larger protest and they all seem to direct their eyes are directed toward the viewer. The eye to eye contact between the viewer and the individuals in the painting allows for the artist to send a message that everybody is required to chose a side, either go out in the streets and protest the injustices against the African-American community or stay at home and allow for the injustice to go on. The piece also shows cut-off signs but makes sure to show the faces clearly which I believe Gammond did so intentionally to humanize the movement to an audience that probably was never sympathetic to the movement. Despite seeming like just a black and white painting capturing a moment during a protest, upon further analyzing it becomes clear that Gammond created a piece that empowers the viewer to support the civil rights movement and understand that a movement is not just a message but the people behind it willing to do anything to make sure that injustice is no more.
In the Soul of a Nation Exhibit, I came across so many great pieces of artwork from the Angela Davis and Malcolm X piece to the Wall of Respect mural. One of the pieces that crossed my eye was the “Blackboard” painting. The artist uses a variety of warm and cool colors from green and white to represent an actual blackboard to red and orange in the clothing of the two subjects in the middle. The lines are smooth and continuous. The artist used just the amount of scale to show both the writing and the subjects. In this painting, it seems as the two subjects are teacher and student. The painting reminds me of a school setting. It could be Black History Month and for class the teacher is showing the student an alphabet acronym of African countries, African American pioneers, and words that come to mind when one thinks of black people and all that we’ve been through.
I chose this painting because we need more teachers teaching students about black history. Black people have endure so much for years and are still enduring a lot. I know that there are many educators and parents who teach their students/kids about black history and its culture. There are many people who are unaware of the many people who helped us as a race to come together with other races as a society. This painting relates to the rest of the exhibition because it has aspects that relates to black history. The painting showed names of those who helped us from education to living in society with one another (such as Dubois, Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Toussaint L’oeuvre, and more). This painting also had empowering words such as “victory, justice, freedom, black power…” which showed how far we’ve come as a race and as a community.