February celebration

Black History Month gets its due

Posted: February 8, 2018 at 2:59 a.m.

Black Unity by Elizabeth Catlett, 1968 (cedar, 21 × 12 1/2 × 23 inches), from the collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, is among the works in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.

It's neither possible nor practical to keep up with the many causes celebrated each month. February alone offers a huge array, including Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month, American Heart Month, Bake for Family Fun Month, Chocolate Lovers' Month, Human Relations Month, Library Lovers Month and Marijuana Awareness Month.

All worthy of someone's attention, no doubt. Especially relevant, however, is Black History Month. Arkansans have always found many ways to observe its spirit; this year is no exception.

Consider "Foot Soldiers for Freedom" at the Garland County Library in Hot Springs, "Arkansas Divine 9: An Exhibit of Arkansas' African American Greek Letter Organizations" at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, and a lengthy lineup of lectures, workshops, panel discussions, book signings and celebrations. (For a complete list visit www.arkansasheritage.com).

Among the starring attractions is "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" on display through April 23 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Organized by the Tate Modern in London, it features 164 paintings, murals, sculptures and photographs by 60 contemporary black artists--among them Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, Elizabeth Catlett, Martin Puryear and William T. Williams--that examine the ways they were influenced by the cultural and political movements in America between 1963 and 1983.

"It charts the way that this group of artists, divided into 12 different rooms and different sections, made art," said Lauren Haynes, Crystal Bridges curator for contemporary art.

A recent media tour included an appearance by Dana Chandler Jr., 77, whose bullet-blasted Fred Hampton's Door 2, a memorial to a young man who was killed by Chicago police in 1969, is part of the exhibition. The artist described "Soul of a Nation" as one of the most important shows of the century because the work is from an important period and is being highlighted together.

"We knew that we were valid and our work was as significant as anything done in the world," said the onetime Black Power activist and professor emeritus at Simmons College in Boston. "We didn't really care that the critics, at that time, were not able to deal with that."

Describing the exhibit as a "beautiful ugly," UA Little Rock architectural engineering student Anthony Freeman observed, "It's like a mash-up of mixed emotions of anger, happiness, bitterness, sadness. It's so expressive, I'm almost scared to view it, especially being African American. It's not just art. It's a reality of life. It's all something we may want to forget or cover up, but it's a reality and it still exists. Every artwork is a piece of that artist's reality."

Editorial on 02/08/2018