The Color Line: Race in the Graphic Arts

"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line."--W.E.B. DuBois

Callaloo's handful of ventures into the traditional styles of magazine illustration and the graphic arts emphasize that these common, mass-produced forms of artistic expression do not typically delve into issues of race and racism. The use of the black and white color palette and of the line as design element to broach matters of race in Richard J. Powell's cover design, and in the cover created from Bifford Scarborough, Jr.'s painting, dramatizes the possibilities traditional graphic arts hold for valuable examination of racial matters, while also reminding of the infrequency with which these possibilities are explored. Images such as these are uncommon in traditional magazine illustration.

Guy Davenport's drawing reflects a more traditional impulse towards fascination with "primitivism" and African ancestry which would appear in "mainstream" magazine illustration. Inclusion of this image, along with the works of John Biggers and Nikolai Goodlich, which resemble "mainstream" graphic art, and do not deal explicitly with issues of race, exposes the "color line" which mainstream publications draw. African-American issues are typically excluded, unless they apply to a mainstream discriminatory fascination with primitivism. Thus, African-Americans are robbed of a place in the medium to the extent that, if the images of Biggers or Goodlich appeared in another publication, readers would never think to apply them to issues of race. Just as African-Americans are seldom included specifically in the graphic arts, readers seldom think of the medium as applying to African-Americans, even in when the illustrations in question hold universal significance.

By publishing these cover images, establishing a dialogue between the uncommon illustrations which deal explicity with race, and the more traditional illustrations which would not commonly be thought of in terms of the African-American experience, Callaloo exposes the racial boundaries existing in this particular artistic medium. Such recognition of these "color lines" represents a crucial step in working towards their diminishment. Indeed, this process, established by this collection of cover artwork, is specifically addressed in Harold Baquet's Just a Closer, and in his interview with Charles Rowell about the work. Baquet describes the way he often includes a border on his image, as in Just a Closer, where he explains, "I've overemphasized [the border] because I'm in the frame of mind to eradicate the border or take away its importance. I leave it behind in many pieces, expressing that we should have no borders and no boundaries. It's my way of breaking the boundaries and breaking with traditional photographic gimmicks. I'm urging the viewer to go beyond it."

Just as Baquet includes a border in his image, only to override it and expand its bounds, this collection of cover design from Callaloo dramatizes the medium's racial boundaries, while simultaneously working to move beyond them.


Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1978)

"Twins of Autumn," from The Elders
Lithograph by John Biggers, 1975


Vol. 3, Numbers 1-3 (Feb.-Oct., 1980)

Drawing by Chike C. Aniakor


Vol. 6, No. 3 (Autumn, 1983)

Ink Drawing by Guy Davenport


Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring-Summer, 1985)

Cover Design by R. Marshall


Vol. 8, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985)

Cover Design by Richard J. Powell


Vol. 10, No. 4 (Autumn, 1987)

Painting by Bifford Scarborough, Jr.


Vol. 14, No. 3 (Summer, 1991)

Just a Closer
Harold Baquet, 1988
Integrated photograph/ mixed media on silver gelatin
16" x 20"


Vol. 22, No. 1 (Winter, 1999)

Blue Man
Nikolai S. W. Goodlich
Oils on canvas, 4.5'x3.5'

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