National Tour of African-American Art Reflects Struggle for Identity, Equality

A national tour of “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond” is under way. The exhibition presents a selection of works by 43 black artists who lived through the tremendous changes of the 20th century.

In paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs, the featured artists embrace themes both universal and specific to the African American experience, including the exploration of identity, the struggle for equality, the power of music and the beauties and hardships of life in rural and urban America.

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The exhibition will travel through 2014 to additional cities in the United States following its presentation in Washington, D.C. Confirmed venues include:

  • Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. (Sept. 28 – Jan. 6, 2013);
  • Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2013 – April 28, 2013);
  • Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. (June 1, 2013 – Sept. 2, 2013);
  • Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Feb. 14, 2014 – May 25, 2014); and
  • Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif. (June 28, 2014 – Sept. 21, 2014).

Information about additional venues will be available on the museum’s website.

“This exhibition allows us to understand profound change through the eyes of artists,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “These works by African American artists are vital to understanding the complex American experience.”

The 100 works on view are drawn entirely from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of African American art. More than half of the works featured are being exhibited by the museum for the first time, including paintings by Benny Andrews, Loïs Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence, as well as photographs by Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks and Marilyn Nance. Ten of the artworks were acquired within the past five years. More than half of the objects in the exhibition are photographs from the museum’s permanent collection. Individual object labels connect the artworks with the artistic and social factors that shaped their creation.

The 20th century was a time of great change in America. Many of the social, political and cultural movements that came to define the era, such as the jazz age, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement, were rooted in African American communities. Black artists explored their identity in this quickly changing world through a variety of media and in styles as varied as postmodernism, documentary realism, expressionism and abstraction.

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