press release

Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement

As part of a city-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, the DIA presents Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement.

Explore powerful artworks by African American artists who formed collectives during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. These collectives, made up of artists working together in distinct groups, created art specifically for African American audiences that asserted black identity and racial justice.

This exhibition includes 34 paintings, sculptures, installations and photographs produced by artists working both collectively and independently to address social and political issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and today. Situated within the story of these collectives is the Detroit Rebellion of 1967.

Most of the exhibition focuses on the art of five artist collectives: Spiral Active 1963–65 in New York and formed by Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff to advance the Civil Rights Movement’s platform of social change. Charles Alston’s Black and White #7 (1961), Untitled (Alabama) by Norman Lewis (1967) and Romare Bearden’s photo projection on paper Conjure Woman (1964) are shown in this section.

Kamoinge Workshop Founded in 1963 in Harlem by photographers Louis Draper, Ray Francis, Herbert Randall, Albert Fenner and Roy DeCarava. Kamoinge is still active in addressing the underrepresentation of black photographers in the art world and in conveying the black experience. Ming Smith’s James Baldwin in Setting Sun over Harlem, Harlem, New York, 1979 (1979/91), Fadiouith, Senegal by Anthony Barboza, (1972) and Adger W. Cowans’ Malcolm X Speaks at a Rally in Harlem (at 115th St. & Lexington Ave.), New York, September 7, 1963 (1963) are among the photographs in this section.

Weusi Based in Harlem, founded in 1965 by Ademola Olugebefola and Otto Neals. An ongoing collective dedicated to eradicating negative misrepresentations of black culture in the media and to teaching African Americans about their heritage. This section includes Che Baraka’s Blood of My Blood (1973), Curiosity by Otto Neals (1969) and Shango by Ademola Olugebefola (1969).

Black Arts Movement (BAM) Active in New York 1965–76 and founded by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka in response to Malcolm X’s death. These artists emphasized racial pride and African heritage in art that reflects black culture and experiences. BAM members were politically militant and often racial separatist. This section features Southern Pasture by Benny Andrews (1963), The Fire Next Time by Vincent Smith (1968) and Hale Woodruff’s Ancestral Memory (1966).

AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) Established in Chicago in 1968 by Jeffrey Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams. These artists created powerful art that was understandable, relevant and accessible. They regarded art making as a revolutionary act and developed Afrocentric aesthetic principles and concepts that reflected the style, colors, cool attitude and rhythm associated with African American culture. Among these works are Three Queens by Wadsworth Jarrell (1971), Unite by Barbara Jones-Hogu (1971) and Jeff Donaldson’s Victory in the Valley of Eshu (1971).

Art of Rebellion also includes work by artists who did not belong to a collective but who were also reacting to civil rights and social justice issues. Some examples are Black Attack by Allie McGhee (1967), which is about Detroit’s 1967 rebellion and Selma to Montgomery, Alabama March, Cover of May, 1965 Issue of Ebony Magazine by photographer Moneta Sleet Jr., which shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading protesters on the famous march in the title of the work.

Many African American artists working in the 1980s to the present were inspired by artists in the collectives, who were virtually unknown and unrecognized in their own time. Among them are Rita Dickerson, whose 2017 painting 1967: Death in the Algiers Motel and Beyond is about the 1967 Detroit rebellion; Elizabeth Catlett’s Homage to Black Women Poets (1984) and David Hammons African American Flag (1990).

The exhibition is co-organized by the DIA and Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which is hosting a complementary exhibition, Say it Loud: Art, History, Rebellion. Both are part of a community-wide reflection on the Detroit rebellion of 1967 that involves about 100 local institutions led by the Detroit Historical Museum.