Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Celebrates the Work of African American Artists in Soul of a Nation

By The Editors | February 10, 2020 | Lifestyle

Exhibit at the de Young explores the Soul of a Nation through three decades.

poster4096.jpg“The Doors” (2019), a six-channel HD video installation by Zach Blas.

Celebrating the works of African American artists created during the turbulent era of 1963 through 1983, the internationally acclaimed exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is on view at the de Young museum through March 15. Including the creativity of more than 60 artists—several connected to the Bay Area—Soul of a Nation reflects a time when race and identity were central issues in society, much as they are today.

“Their work changed the course of the art historical canon, and with this exhibition we continue to tell a truer, more holistic story of what American art is,” says Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in press materials. “It is my distinct honor to welcome this incredibly important exhibition to the de Young museum in San Francisco and introduce these artists to the next generation of change makers.”

Poignantly beginning in 1963, the year of the March on Washington and at the height of the civil rights movement, Soul of a Nation pans over history and cultural milestones weaving in music and literature. Many artists featured in the exhibit created images that promoted individual and collective strength, solidarity and resistance.

The upswell of black pride and resistance against systemic racism during these decades produced enduring images of political leaders, such as Wadsworth Jarrell’s “Black Prince” (1971) (Malcolm X) and John Outterbridge’s “About Martin” (1975) (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Photographers such as Roy DeCarava depicted the diversity, complexity and beauty of ordinary African Americans, trying to live their lives in the midst of a racist society.

The collection includes multiple mediums, including figurative and abstract painting, prints, photography, assemblage, collage, sculpture, street murals, performance and even custom clothing.

Shifting to another aspect of human identity, the de Young presents Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI Feb. 22 to Oct. 25.

As technological transformation shapes our behavior and communities, the de Young presents the first major exhibition in the United States to explore through an artistic lens the relationship between intelligent machines and their creators.

The exhibition will feature new and recent works by intergenerational, international artists and activist collectives including Ian Cheng, Simon Denny, Stephanie Dinkins, Forensic Architecture, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agnieszka Kurant, Lawrence Lek and Martine Syms.


2019SoulOfaNationMasonMaidenVoyage.jpg“Maiden Voyage” (circa 1969, acrylic on canvas), by Phillip Lindsay Mason.

MississippiFreeMarcher.jpg“Mississippi freedom marcher, Washington, DC” (1963, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper), by Roy DeCarava.

2019SoulOfaNationStevensUhuru.jpg“Uhuru” (1971, screenprint on paper), by Nelson Stevens; “America the Beautiful” (1960, oil on canvas), by Norman Lewis.

AndrewsDidtheBearSitUnderaTree1969.jpg“Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?” (1969, oil on canvas with painted fabric collage and zipper), by Benny Andrews.

JonesHoguUniteFinal.jpg“Unite” (1971, screenprint on paper), by Barbara Jones-Hogu.

BEST.jpg“Shadows, New York” (1961, silver gelatin print), by Adger Cowans.

JarrellWadsworthBlackPrinceTatecroppedtocanvas.jpg“Black Prince” (1971, acrylic paint on canvas), by Wadsworth Jarrell.

Photography by: Courtesy of: The artist and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; Phillip Lindsay Mason; Sherry DeCarava & The Decarava Archives 1963, Estate of Roy DeCarava; Nelson Stevens; Estate of Norman Lewis, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY; 2019 Estate of Benny Andrews, Licensed by VAGA at Artists' Rights Society(ARS), NY, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY; Estate of Barbara Jones-Hogu, Lusenhop Fine Art; Adger Cow-Ans Collection of Munson & Christina Steed, Atlanta, GA; Wadsworth Jarrell, Lusenhop Fine Art