Richard J. Powell (Fellow, 1995–96)
March 27, 2012
The New Negro Movement, better known as the Harlem Renaissance, was many things to many people: an effort to place African American issues on the national agenda; a moment in which African Americans exerted unprecedented influence on popular culture; a conscious drive to recast African American identity; a glorification of the African American folk temperament; a “primitive,” spiritual, back-to-nature antidote to an up-tight, mechanical, urban civilization.
While these definitions found their chief expression in literature, they were also powerfully embodied in the visual arts. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as contemporary design of the 1920s, African American religion, and dreams of an African past, New Negro artists created a fresh vision of African American life. How did they depict rich and poor, rural and urban, “proper” and “primitive?” What role did Harlem play in creation of New Negro art? And how does that art interpret the African American encounter with twentieth century modernity?