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.

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