(Above: “Saturday Night” by Archibald Motley, 1935, oil on canvas. From the Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)
From the distance of 100 years, the art produced by its biggest protagonists is as fresh and relevant as that of today.
Last week, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, the Columbus Museum of Art opened “I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100.”
The Ohio museum’s landmark exhibition displays artwork, photographs, literature, poems, posters, and film of its key protagonists, taken from its own collections, as well as public and private loans.
(Above: “Harlem Girl,” by Winold Reiss, 1925, pencil, charcoal, and pastel on heavy illustration board. From the Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Missouri, a gift of Mr. W. Tjark Reiss.)
The Harlem Renaissance was a transformative cultural movement based in Manhattan’s northern neighborhood around the end of WWI, which produced an innovative outpouring of creativity from notable African American writers, artists, filmmakers, and performers.
“The Harlem Renaissance is a touchstone in Black America, it’s a touchstone for creativity, it’s a touchstone for togetherness, it’s a touchstone for resilience,” said the exhibition’s guest curator, Wil Haygood.
The exhibition’s title is taken from a 1926 poem, “I, too,” written by one of the Harlem Renaissance’s famous figures, Langston Hughes, to highlight the rich legacy left behind by African American artists of the era, and to underline black Americans’ inclusion among creative geniuses and tastemakers.
It’s an important yardstick of the artistic, cultural, and political strides of the last 100 years as African American creatives have asserted their individual freedoms.
The exhibition runs through January 20, 2019, so plan your trips to Columbus accordingly. If you can’t visit, pick-up the exhibition catalog, which I found at my local library! Printed by Rizzoli, it’s got wonderful reproductions of exhibition artwork and essays.
(For African American dancers who wanted to dance in the early 20th century, there wasn’t much opportunity until post-WWII. The Harlem Renaissance provided opportunity for black woman to dance, like Florence Mills.)