Remembering the Black Arts Movement

An issue of: Nka

Remembering the Black Arts Movement
Journal Issue Pages: 152 Volume 2011, Number 2 Number: 29 Published: Fall 2011 An issue of Nka
Artists of the Black Arts movement have been a major driving force in the growth of a remarkable, rich, and diverse array of aesthetics and styles, driven by a concern of uniting people of African descent all over the world. They have produced a truly trans-African, as well as transnational, range of voices and artwork. These special issues focus selectively on works by artists who formed and joined collectives such as AfriCOBRA, “Where We At” Black Women Artists, Spiral, and Weusi, as well as others who operated independently within the same aesthetic impulses and ideological framework. Some of the contributions highlight independent pioneers whose work exerted a tremendous influence on the movement, in addition to others who have shared similar concerns without belonging to a specific group. Some essays engage the thematic, aesthetic, and ideological concerns that dominated the works of these artists. These have ranged from responding to the visual tropes of racist and stereotypical representation, to confronting the legacy of absence in the work of artists associated with the Black Arts movement, as well as the neglected legacy of Black Abstraction. All have joined in the creation of a new art and aesthetics, modernist in essence but rooted in the black experience. Some essays by younger artists address representations of blackness as it is informed by emerging discourses in the fields of black art and visual culture from gender, sexuality, and feminist perspectives. They also provide insights into how such discourses are evoked in mapping absence and presence within postmodernist and conceptualist frameworks.


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Remembering the Black Arts Movement

Hassan, S. M.

Black Aesthetics Unbound

Crawford, M. N.

How did the Black Arts movement become an antitext movement? How did the black aesthetic of this movement use the tension between the bound and the unbound? This essay examines the movement’s critique of a dominant "museum exhibit" cultural industry that transformed grass-roots culture into highbrow capital. The author argues that the movement resisted the "museum exhibit" of the dominant-culture industry by dramatizing the tension points between inner space, outside space, and unbound space. The aesthetic warfare of the movement is shown to be a struggle against the textualization of gesture and process. This antitext struggle is brought into close relation with the often unrecognized conceptual art movement at the core of the Black Arts movement. The AfriCOBRA tenet of "mimesis at mid-point" leads the author to a reconsideration of the explicit theorizing, during this movement, about the need for both representation and abstraction. As artists worked books for their most antitext and anti-object possibilities, words were worked for their most oral and visual possibilities. The antitext impulse became the impulse to shape the black aesthetic around sonic imagetexts (textual performances that aimed to somehow avoid framing and containing ephemeral but excessive acts of sounding black, looking black, and becoming black).

The Black Arts Movement: Its Meaning and Potential

Baraka, A.

This essay outlines the development and activities of the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School. Its members set up classes on history, politics, and drama; hosted plays, poetry readings, and new music concerts; and stalked through the community preaching about Blackness. Despite its trials, including fighting among members and criticism from the rest of the art world, the theater and school, along with the Black Arts Movement, has made a significant impact. The continuing task faced by revolutionary Black artists and intellectuals is to further the Cultural Revolution.

Studios in the Street: Creative Community and Visual Arts

Widener, D.

The visual arts played a critical role in the cultural awakening that began with the Second World War and flourished in the aftermath of the Watts riots. In searching for new means of expression rooted in and relevant to the communities from which they came, black artists based in Los Angeles pushed the parameters of consciously black art by offering a fundamental reevaluation of the meaning art could have in black lives. Much like avant-garde jazz musicians, visual artists developed a unique mixed-media language that combined themes of political insurgency, communitarian engagement, and familiar cultural tropes of migration, musical, spirituality, and family. Augmented by a cross-generic engagement with sound and text, this bricolage avoided the formal limits of realist representation while producing a culturally specific aesthetics that artists could take as emblematic of the black liberation movement’s broader critique of the limits of American society for what Duke Ellington had called "the sun-tanned tenth of the nation."

Death Proof: Trauma, Memory, and Black Power-Era Images in Contemporary Visual Culture

Ongiri, A.

In Death 24x a Second Laura Mulvey argues that cinematic images belie the deathlike qualities of still photography because of their ability to invoke the appearance of life through motion. This essay examines film and video projects that use found footage and still images from the Black Power era by redeploying them in

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