Room 3: Black Orpheus

Uche Okeke Ana Mmuo 1961

Uche Okeke
Ana Mmuo 1961

© Photo: Franko Khoury
Gift of Joanne B. Eicher and Cynthia, Carolyn Ngozi, and Diana Eicher
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

This room traces the influence of Négritude – a literary, artistic and political movement founded in 1930s Paris – in the visual arts of the Caribbean, South America and Africa. The title ‘Black Orpheus’ was first used by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre for an essay on Négritude in 1948.

Négritude originated with a group of African and Caribbean students in Paris led by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, French Guianese poet Léon Damas, and the future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor. A rejection of colonial racism, Négritude aimed to reclaim the value of blackness and African culture. It was influenced by both Surrealism and the Harlem Renaissance.

Wifredo Lam The Murmur 1943

Wifredo Lam
The Murmur 1943

© Collection Centre Pompidou, Dist. RMN / Droits réservés
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2009

With the advent of the Second World War, the ideas of Négritude spread as its leading figures left Paris for the Caribbean and Africa. New forms of modernism influenced by Négritude arose in these locations, including tendencies identified with creolisation in the Caribbean and the Natural Synthesis movement in Nigeria.

Creolisation reflected a blending of cultures and the acknowledgement by artists and writers that their cultural influences did not come solely from Africa. The concept of Natural Synthesis was conceived by the artist Uche Okeke following the independence of Nigeria in 1960. It proposed a fusion of European modernism with local African aesthetic influences, creating an artistic agenda for a nation reborn.