Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power


During the rise of the Black Power movement, many Black artists were asking fundamental questions about their role: Should a work of art communicate a direct political message? Could it be abstract? What audience should be addressed? Is there a ‘Black art’ or a ‘Black aesthetic’?

Soul of a Nation—organized by the Tate Modern — is a look at how American culture was reshaped through the work of Black artists during the tumultuous 1960s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s. The exhibition features more than 150 artworks, beginning with works by the Spiral group, a New York-based collective who opened up questions of the role of artists in the Civil Rights movement. From there, the exhibition traces the impact of the growing Black Power movement on Black artists, and explores the many ways these artists worked to protest discrimination, rally people to their cause, and celebrate Black culture.

This landmark exhibition features artworks by more than 60 Black artists, including Romare Bearden, Melvin Edwards, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, Charles White, Alvin Loving, Alma Thomas, and William T. Williams.

Some artists, galvanized by the spirit of the civil rights movement, created images that spoke of solidarity, strength, and resistance, while others focused primarily on color, form, and concept. Some works paid homage to legendary African American figures from the period, including political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane, and sports hero Jack Johnson. The variety of artworks reflects the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work during these explosive times.

Crystal Bridges is one of only two American venues to host this important exhibition, described as both powerful, and at times, challenging. Following its debut in Bentonville, the exhibition travels to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.


Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Image: Barkley Hendricks (American, 1945-2017) Blood, (Donald Formey) 1975. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 590.5 in. Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth Montague | The Wedge Connection, Toronto © Estate of Barkeley Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Lack Shainman Gallery, New York. (Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum)


 Whether or not you go, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power brings to light black artists who confronted difficult questions about art, politics and racial identity. How to make art that would stand as innovative, original, formally and materially complex, while also making work that reflected their concerns and experience as black Americans?

Soul of a Nation surveys this crucial period in American art histor with the histories of 20th-century black artists, including Sam Gilliam, Melvin Edwards, Jack Whitten, William T. Williams, Howardina Pindell, Romare Bearden, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, Senga Nengudi, Noah Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Charles White and Frank Bowling.

The book features substantial essays from Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley, writing on abstraction and figuration, respectively. It also explores the art-historical and social contexts with subjects ranging from black feminism, AfriCOBRA and other artist-run groups to the role of museums in the debates of the period and visual art’s relation to the Black Arts Movement. Over 170 artworks by these and many other artists of the era are illustrated in full color.

Select Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power to learn more or to add this significant book to your Amazon shopping cart.

  • Various Media
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Ethnic / Gender
  • Romare Bearden
  • Melvin Edwards
  • Betye Saar
  • Faith Ringgold
  • Charles White
  • Alvin Loving
  • Alma Thomas
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates