In the late 1960s, during a tumultuous social and political period for the United States, an art group was established in the south side of Chicago. AfriCOBRA began with only a few members, all devoted to promoting and defining the "black aesthetic". Equal part activist and artist, these individuals strove to aid in the Black Power Movement through positivity and empowerment of African Americans. This year marks AfriCOBRA's 50th anniversary, and in celebration of the movement's importance and its continued strength, Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York City is presenting a new exhibition, entitled AfriCOBRA: Now. The show will highlight work by each original member of the collective comprehensively showcasing the group's origins as well as its enduring development over the past 50 years.
Founded in the home of Jae Jarrell and her husband Wadsworth Jarrell, AfriCOBRA was conceived as a place where their friends could gather and create. Other founding member Jeff Donaldson later wrote their 1969 manifesto, Ten in Search of a Nation, which laid out the collective goals to "preach positivity to the people" through both abstraction and realism. A central theme in the manifesto described the need for art to fall into one of three categories; definition (imagery that deals with the past), identification (imagery that related to the present) and direction (imagery that presented the future). As a core objective, these artists attempted to take the pain from the past and the present and transform it into positive action. Many of the works can be defined by their use of bright colors, electric designs and integration of image and powerful text. This illustrative idea was meant to help shape black art communities around the country, invigorating positive, forward action, and it was ultimately successful. Today, the AfriCOBRA movement still acts as a mentor for several contemporary African American artist such as Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley.
Never fully recognized for their pioneering ideals, many of these artists are still not acknowledged today by leading art markets as valuable. Much of the imagery was not seen as favorable and sometimes even "scary". It is only until recently that the movement and its founding group were seen as leaders of the black arts movement and an integral part of the civil rights movement.
See more about the exhibition at Kravets Wehby Gallery.
Title image: Barbara Jones-Hogu, Relate to Your Heritage, 1970. Courtesy of Culture Type.