The ‘Soul of a Nation’ exhibition at Tate Modern is a celebration of the work of Black Artists thpouhgt the 1960-80’s in America. I found the exhibition incredibly moving, as it tells the a story which has been put on mute for decades. The visual experience of traveling through room after room is very REAL and RAW as the imagery tells the true experience of so many Black artists and individuals. I was so thankful to have been exposed to such truth and also seeing how the visual arts were used to communicate political opinion and the reality of everyday persecution during the 1960-80’s.
William T. Williams work ‘Nu Nile’ 1973, for me broke into an abstracted emotional form of representation in a new way to other works. Diagonally oriented blocks of a single metallic colour had been used to created a multilayered tonal work. These diamonds pushed against the borders of the canvas which to Williams reflected the resistant to the constrains that Black Americans were experiencing in everyday life.
“You should be able to look at me and see my work. You should be able to to look at my work and see me.” -Roy DeCarava
Another work which was extremely profound was Roy DeCArava’s photography. He was one of the first Black photographers who worked as an artist rather than a photojournalist. His work captured daily life in Harlem and developed his photography himself. His work is very dark and requires the viewer to come close and look in detail at his photography. His use of light evokes an emotional connection to the individuals which he photographs. Interestingly he ability to handle dark tonal ranges has created a Black aesthetic in photography which was reflective of his subject interest. I found an inescapable connection by looking into the lives of those he’d photographed. I am interested in how by limiting the tonal range of a piece, you can draw the viewer into an intimate field with the work which leads to a deepens interation with its content.
I was particularly drawn to Melvin Edwards’ work ‘Curtain (for William and Peter) 1969. The piece starts to explore how material can be enough to communicate an idea or reality. The hung wall of barbed wire and chains is able to discuss with the audience the physical restraint on Black individuals lives at that time. Edwards said he used barbed wire for ‘formal reasons as it was a linear material with kings. However he was also transforming the language of minimalist sculpture by using material the tallied to the history of Slavery and incarceration'(Tate Modern). His work is dedicated to specific people in his life, in this case William and Peter were both Black artists he shared a studio with. I found that when researching into the ‘Veil’ in my won work, the material and its connotations became the piece itself.
The curation of the exhibition was really successful in bringing the public into the present day. In the final two rooms ‘Artists looked back to the history of oppression whilst celebrating present day community and looking forward to a brighter future’ – Tate. It displayed works of Edwards and Joe Overstreet who’s work strung canvas’s up a wall as a reference to lynching but used bold colours to be defiant with optimism. Similarly Alma Thomas’ paintings exploit the use of colour. This by no means was used to wash over the reality of the past with a colourful glow, but did bring the public to a place of action. We are able to construct the society we live in, we all have the ability to ensure the part doesn’t repeat itself, pay homage to what happened and be radical in enforcing a cultural change.