Arts + Culture
Lorraine O'Grady (b. 1934). "Art Is (Girlfriends Times Two)," 1983/2009. Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

This Striking Exhibition Shows How Black Artists Contributed to the Black Power Movement

A review of Tate Modern's 'Soul of a Nation'—an exhibition that is giving African American artists their long overdue recognition.

Martin Puryear's Self will forever be a wonder. It is sculpted from wood with a rich black luster and is said to be hollow inside. The temptation to touch and feel it was to resist. At a glance its shape is that of a thumb. Move one step to the left or right and its precise shape changes. Move another step and it changes again.

The amorphous nature of Puryear's creation gives it fluidity in character and meaning. Is the "self" of the title referring to one's inner state as whole in form and colour but also constantly changing? Or is it a vision of "blackness" as a reality shared by multitudes no two of whom are the same in the same way no two viewpoints of the sculpture are the same? Or not.

The ambiguity adds to the fascination and to what in total is a most exhilarating exhibition of works by African Americans by Tate Modern called Soul of a Nation.


This is the first time a major survey of works by African American artists are shown in the UK and only covers 20 years from 1963, the year of the great March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Curators Zoe Whitely and Mark Godfrey subdivided a mass of 150 works from as many as 60 to occupy 12 rooms at the gallery. They also set an austere tone for the exhibition, as if to prepare the visitor's mind, placing five screens at the entrance with each one playing, on a loop, speeches any luminaries including King, Malcolm X and James Baldwin.

The eloquence and gravity each speaker brings to topics on black life and struggles is able to prime the mind and awaken emotions for an experience that excites as well as it depresses and could dampen the spirit as well as it reaffirms life, if not the necessity of art.

The first room is dedicated to Spiral, a collective formed in 1963 in New York by a group of artists who tasked themselves with figuring out their place and by extension that of the "black artist" in American society.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988). "Pittsburg Memory," 1964. Collection of Halley Harrisburg and Michael Rosenfield.©Romare Bearden Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2017.

The group of 15 artists convened at Romare Bearden's studio between 1963 and 1965 and agreed to present joint exhibitions, but could not agree on common aesthetic grounds, or the more pointed question, "Is there a Negro image?" posed by member Norman Lewis.

Spiral's final decision to make works solely in a monochrome palette proves to be fruitful as it freed the artists from producing overtly political art by committee in favor of personal approaches and convictions.

Reginald Gammon's Freedom Now depicts marchers chanting with placards held up high, while Bearden's collages are made from printed newspaper cutouts one of which, The Conjuring Woman, portray a community healer.

My first time hearing of Bobby Seale, the Black Panther leader, in a substantive way was some years ago on a Black History Studies course led by Robin Walker, author of When We Ruled, a towering and exhaustive history of black peoples before the transatlantic slave trade.

A large part of one class was a listening session for which an excerpt from a recording was played, that of Seale at his trial for inciting violence. The judge had ordered for Seale to be gagged and his body bound to the chair to stop him from protesting a flawed trial and disrupting his own possible conviction.

Occasional recollections of Seale's physical pain and existential anguish have haunted me as if looking for a crystalized form I would find in Hammon's Injustice Case. Set against a white background, Seale's figure looks bleached out, or rather like a developing negative, with intrusions of color supplied from by the red, white and blue stripes of the American flag as if to show American horror in its rawest form informed and sustained by a fully formed consciousness.

Andy Warhol. "Muhammad Ali," 1978. Private collection.©2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

Assemblage art is well represented not least by Betye Saar, John Outterbridge and Noah Purifoy, who started his practice with the wreckage he gathered from the streets after the Watts Rebellion of 1965, an approach that invests his work with urgency as well as tragedy.

Purifoy's Containment Series includes squares of welded metal whose visible lines of joinery shares a wounded elegance with Kintsugi the Japanese technique repairing breakage and its philosophy showing damage part of a thing's essential make up rather than something to disguise or could give shame.

Abstractions of colours and soggy-looking shapes crop around the figure of Miles Davis in Jeff Donaldson's painting, further intensifying the image of Davis in midflow, eyes closed, cheeks puffed with air and fingers over valves and pistons, while the bell is a deep pool of colors that may well be the source of the abstractions.

Donaldson was a member of the Organisation of Black American Culture (OBAC) formed in 1967 in Chicago, the art collective who created the Wall of Respect as public tributes to "Black Heroes" for which they revamped an abandoned building and divided it into seven sections—Jazz, Theater, Sports, Statesmen, Literature, Rhythm & Blues and Religion.

Roy DeCarava. "Couple Walking," 1979. ©Courtesy Sherry DeCarava and the DeCarava Archives.

The photography section is dominated by the work of Kamoinge, a collective of photographers who in the 1970s published four volumes of The Black Photographers Annual and has become the most significant publication for African American photographers of that era.

Helmed by Joe Crawford, each of the four volumes featured works by, at the time, newcomers like Ming Smith and Elaine Tomlin as well as portfolios by established names which included James VanDerZee, Roy DeCarava and Moneta Sleet whose photograph of Coretta Scott King taken at Dr. King's funeral earned him a Pulitzer in 1969.

Toni Morrison, Gordon Parks and John A. Williams each wrote magisterial introductions to the volumes of Annual as did Baldwin who closed his own essay as if speaking from a pulpit:

"We have been through the fire and we know it and we have been tempered by it, in order to endure a day that is coming, and in order to raise up future generations: even as we were raised up. Nothing lasts forever, not even our suffering, and we have everything to celebrate: ourselves."

Decades of systematic discrimination from white run galleries, much of which is discussed in the exhibition catalogue, have kept many of the artists and their works from important galleries that would have deservedly raised their profiles and value in the marketplace—making Soul Of a Nation a much needed corrective.

Even more, its success could inspire substantial solo exhibitions by the featured artists at Tate and other watchful galleries, giving the artists wider and overdue recognition.

That's the hope.

Take a look at more selections from Soul of a Nation, courtesy of Tate, in the gallery below.

Barkley L. Hendricks. "Icon for My man Superman (Superman Never Saved and Black People—Bobby Seale)," 1969. Collection of Liz and Eric Lefkofsky.

©Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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Image courtesy of Trap Bob.

Trap Bob Is the 'Proud Habesha' Illustrator Creating Colorful Campaigns for the Digital Age

The DMV-based artist speaks with OkayAfrica about the themes in her work, collaborating with major brands, and how her Ethiopian heritage informs her work.

DMV-based visual artist Tenbeete Solomon also known as Trap Bob is a buzzing illustrator using her knack for colorful animation to convey both the "humor and struggle of everyday life."

The artist, who is also the Creative Director of the creative agency GIRLAAA has been the visual force behind several major online movements. Her works have appeared in campaigns for Giphy, Girls Who Code, Missy Elliott, Elizabeth Warren, Apple, Refinery 29 and Pabst Blue Ribbon (her design was one of the winners of the beer company's annual art can contest and is currently being displayed on millions of cans nationwide). With each striking illustration, the artist brings her skillful use of color and storytelling to the forefront.

Her catalog also includes fun, exuberant graphics that depict celebrities and important moments in Black popular culture. Her "Girls In Power" pays homage to iconic women of color in a range of industries with illustrated portraits. It includes festive portraits of Beyoncé, Oprah, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama to name a few.

Trap Bob is currently embarking on an art tour throughout December, which sees her unveiling murals and recent works for Pabst Blue Ribbon in her hometown of DC and during Art Basel in Miami. You can see her tour dates here.

We caught up with the illustrator via email, to learn more about the themes in her work and how her Ethiopian heritage informs her illustrations. Read it below and see more of Trap Bob's works underneath.

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Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Art X Live! Is Making Space For Emerging Artists In Nigeria

The musical portion of Art X Lagos featured standout performances from some of Nigeria's most promising rising acts like Lady Donli, WurLD, BUJU and more.

It's 10:40pm in Lagos and the Art X Live! crowd has just been treated to a surprise performance from global star Mr Eazi. The audience is bubbling over with enthusiasm that subsides as BUJU takes the stage. A relative newcomer, BUJU has the tough task of following one of West Africa's most charismatic performers and it's not clear yet if he's up to the task.

But BUJU is one of the freshest young talents in Lagos right now and his emotional yet upbeat set quickly wins him new fans among the young Lagosian art lovers and the international visitors in town for the art fair. The applause he receives as he walks off stage is significantly more boisterous than the one he received when he started.

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Burna Boy. Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage (via Getty Images).

The 20 Best Nigerian Songs of 2019

Featuring Burna Boy, Rema, Tiwa Savage, Zlatan, Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Teni, Davido, Lady Donli and many more.

2019 was another huge year for Nigerian music.

Zlatan's presence was ubiquitous and powered by the zeal for zanku, a dance which is now de rigueur. Rema led the charge for a group of young breakthrough artists that include Fireboy DML and Joeboy. They all represent an exciting crop of talents that point the way forward for Nigerian pop.

Burna Boy's new dominance, built around his excellent African Giant album, delivered on his rare talents, while the long wait for Davido's sophomore album, A Good Time, paid off in satisfying fashion. Simi's Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1 announced her departure from her longterm label. Tiwa Savage also made a highly-discussed move from Mavin Records to Universal Music Group. Meanwhile, Yemi Alade exuded female strength with her latest record, Woman of Steel.

Not to be left out, Wizkid sated demands for his fourth album with a new collaborative EP following a year of stellar features that included his presence on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift, an album which also boasts Tekno, Mr Eazi and Tiwa Savage. Mr Eazi also notably launched his emPawa initiative to help fund Africa's promising up-and-coming artists.

Asa returned in a formidable form with Lucid, while buzzing artists like Tay Iwar, Santi, and Lady Donli all shared notable releases. Lastly, the beef between Vector and M.I climaxed and sparked a resurgence of Nigerian rap releases from Phyno to Ycee, PsychoYP and more.

Read on for the best Nigerian songs of 2019. Listed in no particular order. —Sabo Kpade

Follow our NAIJA HITS playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

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OkayAfrica Presents: 'The Adinkra Oracle' December Reading with Simone Bresi-Ando

We're back with another Adinkra reading from Simone Bresi-Ando to help guide you through the end of the year—and the end of the decade.

It's the a new month and that means we're ready for a new Adinkra reading from Simone Bresi-Ando to help you navigate your December.

After cleansing the space, Simone will pull five Adinkra Ancestral Guidance Cards from a deck of 44 Adinkra symbols—these cards help to channel information, messages and direction from your ancestors using Adinkra symbols when read correctly. Remember, as Simone says, "these readings tell you what you need to know and not necessarily what you want to know—our ancestors are emotionally pure."

Simone gives a general reading of what December has in store to help you know what actions and thoughts are necessary to get the best out of the month. This is a special installment as it also guides you through the end of the year—and the end of the decade.

Watch below.

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