Art Gallery: Afro Modern, Tate Liverpool | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Art Gallery: Afro Modern, Tate Liverpool
A portfolio of bold work by black artists from the Atlantic rim
Beginning with the first earnest gropings towards a black modern style in inter-war Harlem and Brazil, the exhibition moves through Africa’s rediscovery of its own culture in the Negritude movement of the 1940s and '50s, and on to the impact of Civil Rights and Black Power in the 1960s and '70s. After devoting rooms to younger artists’ responses to the slave trade and to external perceptions of blackness, the show ends with today’s super-cool Post-Black artists – including Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon and Chris Ofili – who refuse to be defined by race, while making endless, and often hilarious, reference to it.
And as if it wasn’t enough to look at black artists’ responses to Modernism – and any one of the themes addressed in the seven rooms could have formed the basis for a substantial exhibition – the show also attempts to accommodate the perspectives of more mainstream (okay, lets be blunt about it, white) artists who’ve been influenced by black culture, notably Picasso, Man Ray, Andy Warhol and film maker Maya Deren.
More than an exhibition of "black art", Afro Modern is inspired by British academic Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, which argues that the Atlantic is not only the linking factor in the hybrid cultures that came into being as a result of the slave trade, but in effect a "continent in negative". Far from being an adulteration of black culture, Gilroy argues, fusion is the very essence of black identity. To try to do justice to the ideas in this large, complex book, while giving the mainstream gallery-goer an overview of a century’s worth of black culture, is a lot for any exhibition to try to bite off. Whether or not this courageous show quite succeeds is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Click on the images below to see some of the work on display at Tate Liverpool.
- Edward Burra: Harlem, 1934. Brush and ink and gouache on paper. (© Tate)
- Candice Breitz: Ghost Series #4, 1994-6. Colour photograph on paper - chromogenic print. (Courtesy of the artist and White Cube, London © the Artist and courtesy of White Cube, London)
- Wangechi Mutu: Bird Flew, 2008. Mixed media, ink and collage on mylar. (Courtesy of the Victoria Miro Gallery © Wangechi Mutu)
- Carrie Mae Weems: A Negroid Type/ You Became a Scientific Profile/ An Anthropological Debate/ & A Photographic Subject, 1995. Colour photograph, in four parts. (Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery New York and Candice Breitz © Carrie Mae Weems)
- Romare Bearden: Blue Shade, 1972. Mixed media collage on Masonite. (Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York © Romare Bearden Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009)
- Jacob Lawrence: Street to Mbari, 1964. Tempera, gouache and graphite on paper. (Courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2009)
- David Hammons: The Door, 1969. Wood, acrylic sheet and pigment. (© California African American Foundation)
- Keith Piper: Go West Young Man, 1987. Photograph on paper mounted on board. In 14 parts (© Keith Piper)
Sonia Boyce: Like Love - Parts One & Two at the Bluecoat offers an installation by the British artist (b. 1962). Produced in collaboration with the Blue Room, a programme for adults with learning difficulties, it includes a film of the participants dancing to their favourite love songs on nearby Crosby beach.
Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic continues at Tate Liverpool until 25 April - book online here.
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