How to understand Black art across the diaspora


The Black Arts Movement

1965 -1975

Black artists could transcend the “I” or “me” for the “us” and “we” in order to create a basic philosophy. We wanted to create a greater role as Black artists who were not for self but for our kind. Could we sacrifice the wants of self and ego in order to create the needed positive visual images of our people? Yes, we can!
- Barbara Jones-Hogu

The Black Arts Movement( BAM) was an African-American led art movement during the 1960s and 1970s. This period of artistic and intellectual development emerged out of the Black Power movement. It symbolically began following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and was formally established with the opening of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem by Amiri Baraka. Formerly LeRoi Jones, Baraka summarized that BAM’s goal was “to create an art, a literature that would fight for black people's liberation with as much intensity as Malcolm X our ‘Fire Prophet’ and the rest of the enraged masses who took to the streets.” Poet Larry Neal wrote that BAM was “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept”, art that instilled pride in Black identity and emphasized Black self-determination. It was during this time that Black-led establishments and major publishers were formed: Third World Press, Freedom Ways, Liberator, and Broadside Press among others. The Black Arts Movement was one of the most culturally influential eras that formed politically motivated artists, dramatists, and writers. Though the poets of BAM are usually spotlighted, many art collectives formed in the spirit of the BAM including the Weusi Collective and AfriCobra. However similar to the Black Power Movement, BAM was been criticized for its misogyny and homophobia. Thus the 60’s was a key point of development for Black feminist activism.

Formed by the artists who created the “Wall of Respect” mural, AfriCobra is an art group that helped shape the Black Arts Movement and was integral to the Black Power Movement. The principle of the Chicago-based group was to breathe new, positive life into art from African-American perspectives.   Their signature was bright “Kool-Aid” colors that incorporated imagery and/or text into their works: it was a celebration of color, life, and style. The group was for the community, ensuring that their works spoke to those around them and were also affordable to be collected. With renowned exhibitions across America and participation at FESTAC ’77 in Lagos, Nigeria, AfriCobra was and continues to be influential to the Black arts community, a true symbol of art for the people.

Many of the artists involved in AfriCobra are still working today, with numerous recent exhibitions and continuing to support the development of arts for Black communities across the states.