Focusing on the work of more than forty African American women artists from an under-recognized generation, this exhibition highlights a remarkable group of artists who committed themselves to activism during a period of profound social change marked by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, the Women’s Movement, the Anti-War Movement, and the Gay Liberation Movement, among others. The groundbreaking exhibition reorients conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history, writing a broader, bolder story of the multiple feminisms that shaped this period.
We Wanted a Revolution features a wide array of work, including conceptual, performance, film, and video art, as well as photography, painting, sculpture, and printmaking, reflecting the aesthetics, politics, cultural priorities, and social imperatives of this period. It begins in the mid-1960s, as younger activists began shifting from the peaceful public disobedience favored by the Civil Rights Movement to the more forceful tactics of the Black Power Movement. It moves through multiple methods of direct action and institutional critique in the 1970s, and concludes with the emergence of a culturally based politics focused on intersecting identities of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the early 1980s.
Artists in the exhibition include Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Kay Brown, Vivian E. Browne, Linda Goode Bryant, Beverly Buchanan, Carole Byard, Elizabeth Catlett, Barbara Chase- Riboud, Ayoka Chenzira, Christine Choy and Susan Robeson, Blondell Cummings, Julie Dash, Pat Davis, Jeff Donaldson, Maren Hassinger, Janet Henry, Virginia Jaramillo, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Lisa Jones, Loïs Mailou Jones, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Carolyn Lawrence, Samella Lewis, Dindga McCannon, Barbara McCullough, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Alva Rogers , Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Coreen Simpson, Lorna Simpson, Ming Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Organized in a general chronology around a key group of movements, collectives, actions, and communities, the exhibition builds a narrative based on significant events in the lives of the artists including: Spiral and the Black Arts Movement; the “Where We At” Black Women Artists collective; Art World activism, including the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC), the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), Women, Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL), and the Judson Three; Just Above Midtown Gallery; the Combahee River Collective and Black feminism; Heresies magazine; the A.I.R. Gallery exhibition Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States; and the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theater collective.
We Wanted a Revolution presents lesser-known histories alongside iconic works such as Elizabeth Catlett’s Homage to my Young Black Sisters (1968), Lorraine O’Grady’s Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1982), and Barbara Chase-Riboud’s monumental sculpture Confessions for Myself (1972). Other works on view include Samella Lewis’s, Field (1968); Betye Saar’s Liberation of Aunt Jemima: Cocktail (1973); Senga Nengudi’s Inside/Outside (1977); Maren Hassinger’s large-scale sculptural installation Leaning (1980), which has only been exhibited once before, in 1980; and Howardena Pindell’s iconoclastic 1980 video work Free, White and 21. Also on view are early photographs from the mid-1980s by Lorna Simpson documenting the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theater, a group of women artists, performers, and filmmakers based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, of which she was a part; as well as newly unearthed ephemera and documentation relating to the “Where We At” Black Women Artists collective and Linda Goode Bryant’s influential gallery and alternative space, Just Above Midtown.
“We Wanted a Revolution illuminates the richness and complexity of black woman artists living and working in the 70s and 80s, and demonstrates how they were integral to the U.S. art scene during the latter part of the twentieth century,” says Naima Keith, CAAM’s Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs. “This exhibition feels especially relevant for our audiences because it includes women artists working in various parts of the country, not just on the East Coast,” explains Keith. Several prominent African American artists with work in the exhibition began their careers or attended graduate school in the Southern California area, including Maren Hassinger, Samella Lewis, Senga Nengudi, Betye Saar, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems.
This exhibition is curated by Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art
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