Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power

I visited this exhibition at Tate Modern not really knowing what to expect, certainly I knew something of the Black Power movement in the USA, but very little of black art from the time.

The whole exhibition was fascinating but I will look at three aspects that struck me and in particular how they relate to my study of landscape. Some of the first images in the exhibition were by Romare Bearden who I had not heard of before,

(Romare Bearden, The Dove, 1964)

They were collages and I was particularly interested in these because of my own interest in producing collages for Assignment 6. One of them “The Street” was a beautiful collage constructed of images from magazines of the time. There were many people in the image, some fully depicted, others suggested, almost like ghosts. They were set against a cityscape background of buildings, street and a bridge. The composition and achievements of his collages has given me a lot to explore for my own work.

Out of the whole exhibition one imag stood out to me above all others. It was by Archibald Motley and has the very prosaic title of The First One Hundred Years; He Amongst You Who Is Without Sin Shall Cast The First Stone ; Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do c1963-72.

This oil on canvas took ten years to complete and presents what the gallery notes call a nightmarish vision of “a nation at its symbolic best and worst. The terror of the Klansman’s burning cross shares space with the sacrifice of the crucifixion “.This is a landscape with a very powerful political message.

The third aspect which interested me was the photography of Royal Decarava. I will take two of his images as examples. As a landscape Platform and Light 1960 is simple but very suggestive.

To me it talks of the anonymity of travel, perhaps of disorientation.

Finally, having seen a lot of images of the Civil Rights movement and read of the struggles against violence and discrimination, I found this image by Decarava very moving in what it suggested.


The fact that it’s title is Shade cord and window 1961 somehow added to the intrigue. It also showed to me how the curating and display of images can affect how they are viewed.