You would need to be a serious student of modern American art to be familiar with AfriCOBRA. Fifty years after the black artist collective that defined the visual aesthetic of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was founded; the Chicago-based artists are receiving fresh attention.
Founded in 1968 by Jeff Donaldson, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams, AfriCOBRA, which stands for the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, created defining images for the visual aesthetic of the Black Arts Movement.
In celebration of Miami Art Week 2018, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami will present an exhibition celebrating the founding of AfriCOBRA, AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People, on view from November 27, 2018 through April 7, 2019.
“North Miami, MOCA’s home, is a majority-minority city, a microcosm of the diversity of Miami as a whole and represents the city’s largely African and Caribbean-American demographics,” MOCA North Miami Executive Director Chana Budgazad Sheldon said. “MOCA strives to feature exhibitions that connect the interests of our diverse community with important, historic contemporary art movements. The exhibition AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People does just that.”
This exhibit takes on special meeting for Sheldon who was named the museum’s director in January of this year. AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People represents the institution’s first exhibition under her directorship. Why did she choose this subject to launch her tenure?
"This exhibit honors the importance of AfriCOBRA’s role in American art history. AfriCOBRA was founded in a time when there weren’t enough images of Black people that were positive. The movement is about presenting positive black figures with gorgeous colors, and creating community through art. The founders, like many artists of the 1960s and 1970s, understood that their artistic voices could contribute to the liberation and unifying the Black community as a whole. The vision these artists created went on to help define the aesthetic of the Black Arts Movement – and the works are just as relevant and impactful today as they were when they were made.
AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People brings together the founding artists with five early members, Sherman Beck, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Omar Lama, Carolyn Mims Lawrence and Nelson Stevens, to look back at their contributions to the shaping of AfriCOBRA while presenting the artists’ current works of art. These ten artists provided an artistic foundation from which the group evolved over time through the guiding philosophy of art for the people, art that appeals to the senses, and art that is inspired by African people."
What do visitors have to look forward to in the exhibit?
“Visitors will be surprised to see how deeply connected aesthetically and philosophically AfriCOBRA was and that it continues to this day, and the diversity of works of art–from painting, sculpture, fiber and textiles,” exhibit curator Jeffreen M Hayes said. “They will also be surprised to learn how the collective created a visual language from Black life and culture of the 1960s and 1970s that resonates in our contemporary moment.”
The exhibit’s timing coincides with Miami becoming the center of the art world December 6 through 9 as Art Basel Miami Beach arrives bringing over 200 of the world’s top modern and contemporary art galleries displaying work from over 4,000 artists–along with thousands of visitors–to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Numerous museums, galleries, restaurants, and hotels in the area will be hosting events aimed at the Art Basel crowd.
Gerald Williams, Angela Davis, 1971. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 in.
MOCA North Miami is joined in recognizing AfriCOBRA artists by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago which has on view until December 30th The Time is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960-1980. The exhibition features approximately 100 objects including art and ephemera associated with a variety of Black arts movements including AfriCOBRA.
Founded 50 years ago, AfriCOBRA’s message remains relevant.
“AfriCOBRA is more than a collection of art, it speaks to the social and political challenges Black people still face today,” Hayes said. “Black art is significant to American culture and I am proud to bring this important topic to the forefront through this exhibition at MOCA.”