Powerful abstracts and stirring displays convey Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, at the Tate Modern from 12 July until 2 October, as a show that is not to be missed. Forgotten artists are revived as the battle for civil rights are laid bare in this poignant retrospective. The Tate Modern’s new powerful exhibition reveals how life was for black civilians and black artists in the U.S. from 1963-1983, during a period of social unrest. It was an era when public opinion was beginning to shift and old-fashioned ideals had started to show reform.
Central to the collection are Martin Luther King’s historic words of hope and tolerance, uttered at the steps of the Lincoln monument in Washington in 1963. In reaction to his immortal speech, an African American group called Spiral emerged, reflecting the same ideal as King had. This exhibit traces the steps of this group along with other artists, who wished to represent the realities of the black community in America. Different artistic movements that occurred throughout the states are confronted as the event moves on thematically. The binding factor that ties each section together is the question of, ‘what constitutes black art?’
Many of the pieces are being displayed in the U.K. for the first time. One of the most poignant displays is Sam Gilliam’s emotive April 4 (1969), a pained response to the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Similarly, Barkley L Hendricks’ figure wearing a superman t-shirt leaves a lasting impression. The piece, Icon For My Man Superman (1969), is based on the statement made by Bobby Seale: ‘Superman never saved any black people’.
The Tate Modern’s new powerful exhibition perfectly outlines the struggles that drove the subject of art in this era, where civil rights were at the forefront of political and social battles. The event is being praised for its topical nature; issues of race and division are still being tackled today in America.
To see this riveting show, ranked five stars by the Guardian, visit the Tate Modern 12 July until 2 October.
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