The exhibition Soul of a Nation brings to light and emphasizes the essential contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history. The exhibition opened in 1963, at the beginning of the civil rights movement and its dreams of integration. In its wake, there have emerged activist calls for Black Power: a rallying cry for African American pride, and for autonomy, solidarity, creating an important inspiration for the newly independent African nations.
Artists responded to this period by provoking, confronting and confusing expectations. Their momentum allowed an electrifying visual journey. Living, vibrant paintings, powerful wall paintings, photography, revolutionary clothes and sculptures made of black hair... The variety of works of art reflects the many points of view of artists and collectives at work during these explosive times.
Some engage with legendary figures of the period, with paintings paying tribute to great political leaders such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane and sports hero Jack Johnson. There is the famous painting of Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol. Covering the emergence of Black feminism, discussing the possibility of a single black aesthetic in photography and including activist posters as well as purely abstract works, the exhibition arouses the question of how the concept of Black Art was contested and sometimes categorically rejected by artists throughout the United States.
With most of the 150 works of art exhibited in the United Kingdom for the first time, the exhibition features more than 50 outstanding American artists, including influential figures such as Romare Bearden, Normand Lewis, Lorraine O'Grady and Betye Saar, among others. This benchmark exhibition is a rare opportunity to see decisive works for the time, which have changed the face of art in America.