"The Negro Soul"

"No people that has ever produced great literature and art has ever been looked on by the world as distinctly inferior."

--James Weldon Johnson, The Book of Negro Poetry (1927)

"What a pity so many of our artists are going for pretty landscapes and pictures which have no bearing whatsoever on our group. The Negro poet portrays our group in poems, the Negro musician portrays our group in jazz, the Negro actor portrays our group. All of these aforementioned portrayals are serious, original interpretations of the Negro. There is nothing borrowed, nothing copied, just an unraveling of the Negro soul. So why should the Negro painter, the Negro sculptor mimic that which the white man is doing, when he has such an enormous colossal field practically all his own; portraying his people, historically, dramatically, hilariously, but honestly. And who knows the Negro Race, the Negro Soul, the Negro Heart, better than himself?"

--Archibald J. Motley, Jr., African-American artist

"There is the possibility that the sensitive artistic mind of the American Negro, stimulated by a cultural pride and interest, will receive from African art a profound and galvanizing influence. The legacy is there at least, with prospects of a rich yield. In the first place, there is the mere knowledge of the skill and unique mastery of the arts of the ancestors, the valuable and stimulating realization that the Negro is not a cultural foundling without his own inheritance....And if African art is capable of producing the ferment in modern art that it has, surely this is not too much to expect of its influence upon the culturally awakened Negro artist of the present generation."

--Alain Locke
        Thinkers such as Alain Locke encouraged African-American artists to look to their African and native heritages for inspiration, as early as the 1920s. As James Weldon Johnson expressed, illumination of the rich artistic heritage of African peoples would not only prove the unique abilities and heritage of African-American artists, but would also provide an argument for the integrity of the African and African-American peoples. Indeed, as Locke argued, Euro-American modernist artists had already achieved acclamation for their use of African art as influence. African-American artists should thus re-assert their status as inheritors of this tradition, looking to Africa for inspiration as European and American artists traditionally look to ancient Greece and Rome. Locke hoped that the rich African artistic tradition would become the foundation for a new, admired artistic tradition, just as the classical work of ancient Greece and Rome serves as a foundation for Western art.

Nevertheless, many of the African-American artists who expressed African, native, or African-American folk traditions in their work, as displayed in this gallery, suffered discrimination. Often criticized as "primitive," many of these works were doubly dismissed because they are executed in media which are not traditionally thought of as "high art." In his article on Barbara Ward's soft sculptures, Edmund Barry Gaither addresses the compounded discrimination which occurred when artists worked, not only with media traditionally associated with African, African-American, or folk art, but with forms, like soft sculpture and textile, thought of as "woman's work."

In spite of these difficulties, art forms previously dismissed as "low" art, including quilting, ceramics, and other folk forms, have been accepted into the mainstream of art history and criticism, within the past two decades. This recent embracement of forms in which African-American tradition is one of the most significant influences has helped open the door for African-American artists, and, particularly, female African-American artists, to gain some of the acceptance and acclaim which they have so long deserved.


Vol. 2, No. 2 (May, 1979)

Sculpture by Ed Hamilton


Vol. 4, Numbers 1-3 (Feb.-Oct., 1981)

Boat Folk
Mixed Media Sculpture by William Duffy, Jr.


Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter, 1987)

Quilting Time
Romare Bearden, 1987
Mosaic tesserae mounted on plywood
9 ft. 11/16 in. x 13 ft. 11 1/2 in x 1 1/4 in.


Vol. 12, No. 4 (Autumn, 1989)

New Race II
Soft sculpture by Barbara Ward, 1988-89
Photograph by Rogier Gregoire


Vol. 13, No. 1 (Winter, 1990)

Louanges du Khalamkatt
[Praises of the Khalam Player]
Moustapha Paye, 1987
Collage in fabric and thread
46" x 32"


Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer, 1990)

Santa Marta la Dominadora
[Powerful St. Martha]
Jorge Severino, 1977
Oil acrylic on canvas
72" x 40"


Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 1992)

Bruno Pedurand
Mixed media
80 cm x 90 cm


Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1993)

Midnight Rendezvous
Margo Humphrey, 1985
22" x 30"


Vol. 17, No. 1 (Winter, 1994)

Comanche Women: Ft. Sill Indian School
Mixed media painting


Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1995)

The Waters of Oxum
Dete Lima
Cloth pane in cotton, poplin and silk
1 m. x 80 cm


Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1996)

Laughing Head
From "The Laughing Heads" Series, 1992
Thierry Alet


Vol. 19, No. 4 (Fall, 1996)

Oxn, I
Darrell Rose, 1996
Acrylic on paper board, with painted wooden frame.
23" x 29"


Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring, 1997)

The Wish Giver
Juan Logan, 1989
Acrylic on paper


Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 2000)

Queen: Image and Truth
Ricardo Francis, 1996
Enamel on canvas
4' x 5'

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