Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern, through October 22, 2017

“What did it mean to be a Black artist in the USA during the Civil Rights movement and at the birth of Black Power? What was art’s purpose and who was its audience? Tate Modern presents Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a landmark exhibition exploring how these 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 Nation is a timely 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’.” — Tate Modern

Andy Warhol. 
Muhammad Ali, 
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas, 
1016 x 1016 mm. 
Private collection
© 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London

Barkley L. Hendricks. 
Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved any Black People–Bobby Seale), 
1969. Oil, acrylic and aluminium leaf on linen canvas, 1511 x 1219 mm. Collection of Liz and Eric Lefkofsky
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Benny Andrews (1930-2006). 
Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?, 
Oil on canvas with painted fabric collage and zipper, 1270 x 1568 x 57 mm. Emanuel Collection © Estate of Benny Andrews /DACS, London /VAGA, NY 2017

Betye Saar (b.1926). 
. Mixed media assemblage, 
216 x 349 mm
. Collection of Sheila Silber and David Limburger © Betye Saar. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California

Betye Saar. Rainbow Mojo, 1972. Acrylic on leather. Paul-Michael diMeglio, New York © Betye Saar. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California

Carolyn Lawrence. Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free, 1972. Acrylic paint on canvas, 1245 x 1295 x 51 mm. Courtesy of Carolyn Mims Lawrence

Elizabeth Catlett. 
Black Unity, 
1968. Mahogony wood. 
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas 
© Catlett Mora Family Trust/DACS, London / VAGA, NY 2017

Emma Amos. 
Eva the Babysitter, 1973. Oil on canvas, 1270 x 863.6mm. © Emma Amos. Courtesy of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery, New York. Licensed by VAGA, New York

Emory Douglas (b.1943). 
21 August 1971, ‘We Shall Survive wihtout a doubt’, 
Newspaper, 445 x 580 mm. Center for the Study of Political Graphics (Culver City, USA) 
© Emory Douglas / ARS NY. Photo credit: Courtesy of Emory Douglas/Art Resource, NY

Faith Ringgold. (b.1930)
. American People Series #20: Die, 
Oil on canvas, 1828 x 3657 mm. 
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase; and gift of the Modern Women’s Fund 
© Faith Ringgold

Frank Bowling (b.1936). 
Texas Louise, 
Acrylic on canvas, 2820 x 6650 mm. 
Courtesy of the Rennie Collection, Vancouver © Frank Bowling

Jae Jarrell (b.1935). Revolutionary Suit, 
1969, remade 2010. 
Tweed, suede, wooden pins, 
838 x 685 x 304 mm. 
Brooklyn Museum, New York
© Jae Jarrell

Lorraine O’Grady (b.1934). Art Is (Girlfriends Times Two), 
1983/2009. Photograph, C-print Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
© Lorraine O’Grady

Romare Bearden (1911-1988). 
Pittsburgh Memory, 
1964. Mixed media collage of various printed papers and graphite on board, 216 x 298 mm. 
Collection of Halley K Harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld
© Romare Bearden Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2017

Roy DeCarava. Couple Walking, 1979. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 356 x 279 mm. © Courtesy Sherry DeCarava and the DeCarava Archives

Sam Gilliam. Carousel Change, 1970. Acrylic paint on canvas and leather string, 3000 x 23370 mm. Tate. Promised gift of Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida (Tate Americas Foundation). Image courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

Wadsworth Jarrell (b.1929). 
Screenprint on paper, 864 x 673 mm. 
Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art © Wadsworth Jarrell

William T. Williams. Trane
, 1969
. Studio Museum Harlem © William T. Williams, courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York NY

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is co-curated by Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley, with assistant curator Priyesh Mistry.

Images courtesy Tate Modern.