Room 4: Dissident Identities

Romare Bearden Blue Shade 1972

Romare Bearden
Blue Shade 1972

Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
© Romare Bearden Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009

The counter-cultural politics of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s formed the background for more overt forms of political engagement in art. Black Atlantic art shifted focus from the transatlantic exchanges of Négritude to a concern with the specific social and political implications of slavery, segregation and oppression within societies such as the United States and Brazil.

Dissident Identities examines the ways in which artists working in a range of media and contexts addressed these political conditions, often adopting radical or marginal positions. It addresses different forms of social as well as racial exclusion and oppositional tactics, taking in street-based performance, interventions, improvisation and other strategies of resistance.

David Hammons The Door Admissions Office 1969

David Hammons
The Door (Admissions Office) 1969

Courtesy California African American Foundation
© David Hammons

Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden were both involved in the struggle for Civil Rights. Lewis responded by making stark, politicised abstractions, while Bearden created a series of collages depicting scenes of African-American life that also comment on modernism and its use of African sculpture. David Hammons is known for his street-based works and performances; his early sculpture The Door (Admissions Office) 1969 is a powerful statement of social exclusion.

In his work, Helio Oiticica challenged modernism through an engagement with Afro-Brazilian culture, a strategy represented here by his Parangolé cape. In the late 1970s Jean-Michel Basquiat created interventions in New York’s streets with postmodern graffiti art. His later painting Natives Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari 1982 addresses the legacy of Western colonialism while also questioning more celebratory images of blackness.