The Stalwart

Black Orpheus



There are only three locations in the nation that are presenting this exhibit, and one of them is right here in our very own backyard. Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club is an exhibition featuring more than 100 pieces of art, including sculptures, painting, and international journals and sacred texts translated and presented, specifically Black Orpheus. In the 1960’s artist, Jacob Lawrence, took a trip to Nigeria. During this trip, he witnessed the day-to-day life of the people and community, but also Lawrence realized the disconnect between the artists of the African diaspora and the rest of the world. Around this time is when the Mbari Club was founded. This group of young creatives produced pieces heavily influenced by their unique backgrounds and cultures. This collection of writings and art pieces, influenced by their trip, was produced into an art and literary journal, known as Black Orpheus.

This exhibit was curated by Dr. Kimberli Gant, of the Brooklyn Museum of modern and contemporary art and the Chrysler Museum of Arts, and Dr. Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in African Arts and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Dr. Gant’s focus was on more of the America and Jacob Lawrence’s studies. While Dr. Ezeluomba’s focus was art linked to Nigeria in the 1960’s, specifically the Black Orpheus. “The artists coming out during this era were an important part of shaping the historical trajectory of Africa.” Stated Dr. Ezeluomba. During the 1960’s, Africa was in a civil war, fighting to gain independence. America wasn’t doing the best either, but Jacob Lawrence and the other artist found a way to find inspiration in the midst of their suffering. One of the featured pieces is a sculpture, Awakening Africa, carved by Ghanaian artist Vincent Kofi, during the dawn of independence. This sculpture represents a woman in position as if she was giving birth. During this time, this piece represented the birth of a new nation free from colonization. Another great artist and philosophic poet, Malangatana Ngwenya, was believed to have predicted the change and suffering that would shortly take place once Africa experienced a civil war for decades. A lot of Malangatana’s work emphasizes anger and pain in the faces he paints.

There were many well-known museums and galleries that wanted to feature this exhibit, such as the Smithsonian and the High Museum of Art in Georgia, but because of the delicacy of the art curators believe that three locations was more than enough. It is an honor for the exhibit to be presented here at Toledo Museum of Art. With our profound love of culture and art from around of the world, this exhibit fit right in. Curators want visitors to really embrace the art and the artists highlighted in this exhibit. “Americans wouldn’t even have known about half these African creatives, if not for this exhibit, and they influence most Modern African art.”

The exhibit will be available for viewing until September 3, 2023. There will also be a conversation with co-curator Dr. Ezeloumba on August 4, 2023, from 6pm-7pm. Free to all.

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