Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983, The Broad, Los Angeles

Soul of a Nation

When Jay-Z & Beyonce rented out the Louvre Museum in Paris to shoot a music video for their joint album Everything Is Love, initially many people were amazed by the idea – considering no one has ever rented out the entire Louvre museum, let alone filmed a music video inside.

The idea behind that decision was not simply to“flex” their influence, but rather to make a statement that black art isn’t appreciated within the highbrow art society.

Beyonce and Jay Z at the Louvre

The only black artist we ever really get a chance to see at that level is Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I feel that on some level he is highlighted more for his relationship with Andy Warhol than he is for his actual art. The Carters’ intention was to start the conversation of including more diversity within these art museums.

Soul of a Nation exhibit at The Broad definitely doesn’t hold back on being unapologetically black. Art viewers are getting a taste of the Black Power experience in America from the years of 1963-1983 through the eyes of the black art leaders during that time period.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled

The work being displayed not only tells the story of what black people were feeling at the time, but also expresses that this was a way for black culture to speak out against the struggle we were dealing with during that time. At the time, artists were still being innovative and pushing boundaries with their artwork, but they were being overlooked by other popular contemporary artists. Kerry James Marshall was one of the leaders for black artists during that period, and one of my favorite artists of all time.

Charles White; Wanted Poster No.5 (1969)

I discovered more artwork from Charles White, another leading artist during that time period. Marshall cites White as his mentor and role model; he believes White’s artwork should be seen all over the world in art museums and galleries. White was the pioneer for black contemporary art at the time. He pushed the culture forward through his wonderful art pieces that not only expressed how he was feeling, but also ushered in new techniques and a style that has been a major contribution to the art world.

Barkley L. Hendricks “Rebirth of Cool", Superman

Another artist’s work I really gravitated towards was that of Barkley Hendricks. His series Rebirth of Cool, oil and acrylic on canvas paintings of his subjects, captures their individuality through their posture, clothes, and attitude. Hendricks’ work to me is minimalist. He simply was able to capture the rawness of his subjects and somehow able to translate who they were as individuals through his paintings. In his work, he was also still showing viewers what black culture represented.

Visit The Broad, Soul of the Nation

As I walked through the museum viewing the art on display, a couple things caught my attention. The first one was that all of the artwork being displayed was unapologetically black and uncensored, which I loved because I could see it was making viewers feel uncomfortable. It was not only striking a chord within a few of the viewers, but I witnessed people become very bothered by what they were seeing. At the same time, they were also reading the backstory of what the artists were dealing with that inspired many of the pieces. I saw an older black man with his granddaughter explaining what black people were dealing with during that time period. Watching him shake his head and smirk as he read some of the descriptions for the artwork, I could see he had lived through some of the situations. One piece in particular that made everyone sort of cringe was by David Hammons, titled Injustice Case, which shows a black man tied to a chair being gagged with a cloth, and the American flag used as the border of the frame. The idea was to recall Bobby Seale in his court case during the trial of the Chicago Eight. Seals was denied to chose his counsel in court as well as his right to defend himself. It was a very powerful piece. I was able to witness so many people interpret and react to that simple imagery. I believe this was a good thing because the exhibit was educating people through the artwork.

Hammons Injustice Case

In conclusion, my visit to the Soul of A Nation ended up being a very informative visit as well as inspiring. I would suggest everyone make time to go and check out the exhibit.  It will be worth the time and money spent being at The Broad. The Broad Foundation did a great job curating the exhibit by not censoring the artwork or having popcorn art on display. Most major art museums try to dumb down what they show their viewers, but for this exhibit The Broad did a great job of showcasing the gritty artwork of the Black Power era. I would suggest everyone take a trip to the exhibit and be open to learning history and ideas as well as experiencing the expression of sometimes gut-wrenching pain that is reflected in the struggle of the African American experience. 

The Broad Soul of a Nation