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

What is black? Jeremy Atherton Lin on Tate Modern’s survey of African-American art

By Jeremy Atherton Lin

Lorraine O’Grady, Art is (Girlfriends Times Two), 1983/2009, photograph, c-print. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Emma Amos, Eva the Babysitter, 1973, oil on canvas, 127 × 87 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery, New York

Tate Modern, London, 12 July – 22 October 2016‘Soul is black’. This was reportedly Aretha Franklin’s response when entreated for a definition of soul. Tate Modern’s survey of African-American art – encompassing over 65 artists through two decades from 1963 – asks what is black? Artist Raymond Saunders provided a formalist answer with his 1967 pamphlet ‘Black is a Color’. Indeed, black is present in that literal sense. Martin Puryear’s Self (1978) is a simple biomorphic form made of hollow…

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