From the Archive c. 1970
The 1970s was a decade rife with sociopolitical struggle and awareness, growth and change on both national and international scales. For the majority of the 70s, The Studio Museum in Harlem was located in a rented loft at 2033 Fifth Avenue that was much smaller than the current location on 125th Street. From the loft, the Museum presented innovative exhibitions that engaged the issues of the time, a tradition that has continued for almost fifty years.
As I continue with my fellowship in the Studio Museum archive, I have come to fully appreciate the role the Museum plays as an influencer of black culture across the world. It is always exciting to see materials in our archive colliding with a greater historical narrative, especially since the Studio Museum holds the honor of being the first art museum dedicated to black artists. With that in mind, it is no wonder that the Museum presented AfriCobra II in 1971, which featured work from the cooperative of African-American artists who were “going about the righteous business of identifying and making use of the styles and rhythm qualities, both apparent and actual, that finds expression in the lives of black people everywhere,”1 The cooperative described their work in terms of a “black aesthetic” that took inspiration from music and poetry.
Another exhibition from the early 70s that took place in the loft space was Impact Africa in 1970, which examined the effect African art had on modern and contemporary art movements in the West. Impact Africa featured the works of LeRoy Clarke, Ray Grist and Ademola Olugebefola, as well as works by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.
My final choice here is an image from the opening reception of Harlem Artists ’69. The man pictured is dressed in the fashions of the day, indicative of the celebration of blackness taking place globally during that time period. The exhibition featured more than a hundred works and sought to bring young black artists together in the Harlem community. The exhibition challenged the prevailing practice of mainstream institutions excluding artists of color, and emphatically asserted the place of black artists working, creating and contributing to culture. This exhibition set the precedent for the Studio Museum as the destination for contemporary art by black artists.