Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden

University of Nebraska



Black Image and Identity: African-American Art from the Permanent Collection

September 1, 1999 - January 2, 2000


The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden is pleased to present Black Image and Identity: African-American Art from the Permanent Collection, an exhibition that surveys the diversity of aesthetic expression from the African-American community since mid-century.

Intended as a complement to Robert Colescott: Recent Paintings, an exhibition opening at the Sheldon Art Gallery on September 24, Black Image and Identity also will help locate Colescott's aesthetic achievements within the broad context of a rich and distinctive African-American artistic tradition, by which he was undeniably influenced and has, in return, influenced and challenged a new generation of African-American artists.

This exhibition is organized around the concept of identity as an important element in the development of an African-American artistic tradition in the twentieth century. Far from being monolithic and homogeneous, "black identity" has been a largely contested concept as it has been constituted and reconstituted throughout the twentieth century and has been largely dependent on the socio-cultural and historical locations of those offering definitions on behalf of various communities. Moreover, this exhibition shows the important role that the visual arts have played in "visualizing" or "aestheticizing" these concepts of identity while affirming the important role that the visual arts play in achieving personal and collective identities.

Black Image and Identity features fourteen works that present eleven 20th-century African-American artists whose art addresses the question of racial identity. The exhibition reveals the diverse perspectives presented by these artists. On view are James VanDerZee's photographic portrayals of Harlem Renaissance "New Negroes" of the 'teens and 'twenties, Romare Bearden's mid-century construction of an African-American aesthetic, and the visual narratives of Robert Colescott and Raymond Saunders.

Black Image and Identity focuses particular attention on the younger generation of artists who have been deeply influenced by Colescott and Saunders, such as Michael Ray Charles, Willie Cole, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems. Despite their diverse and, in some cases, divergent approaches to reflecting on "black identity," these artists all assume the importance of and the unique responsibility for the visual arts to address such socio-cultural issues as community, racial identity, and the role of history in affirming and denying various forms of accepted wisdom.

What is ultimately revealed by Black Image and Identity is that it is much more accurate to speak of "black identities," of the diversity and multivocal traditions, discourses, and world-views that have formed a significant and powerful contribution which African-American art and ideas have made to national and international culture.

From September 2-19, 1999 a special expanded version of Black Image and Identity will be on display in the two adjacent galleries. This expanded exhibition will consist of such important African-American artists as Henry Ossawa Turner, Jacob Lawrence, Richard Hunt, Faith Ringgold, Sam Gilliam, Glen Ligon, among others.

An exhibition catalogue of Colescott's paintings and an illustrated brochure for Black Image and Identity will be available for purchase from the Sheldon Gift Shop. It is anticipated that these exhibitions will serve as the context within which several lectures and dialogues will occur on the role of the visual arts in constituting and sustaining racial identity.


Read more about the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in the Resource Library

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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