W. E. B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk (1903) and other writings brought a heightened awareness of the Black condition in the United States and in other countries that form the borders of the Atlantic. Although less overtly concerned with the political dimension as was Du Bois, Alain Locke, particularly in his perspectives set forth in The New Negro (1925), envisioned an historical moment when Blacks removed the remaining fetters of slavery and begin to unapologetically assert themelves as central players on the American cultural stage. When Langston Hughes wrote "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" in 1925, he was expressing his emancipatory moment, as a young artist and a young Black man. In his Black Skins, White Masks (1962), Frantz Fanon assumed an anticolonial emancipatory stance by maintaining that his blackness is not a lack--that he saw no need to aspire to the European idea of the universal. He spoke and wrote strongly against efforts to radically erase his blackness--his Black consciousness.6 James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963) belongs to the emancipatory documents that attempted to free the expressions of U.S. Blacks and other colonized people from subservience to European muses, encouraging them to look to themselves, their own heritage as a source of inspiration.

     The aforementioned publications are extraordinary Black cultural documents. Much of the same emancipatory spirit is manifest in selected works in the visual arts.

     Edmonia Lewis's Forever Free, Meta Warrick Fuller's Ethiopia Awakening, and Sargent Johnson's Forever Free, are works of visual art that are intellectually and culturally linked to Black liberation that has its epicenter in the United States. Another work that interrogates the emancipatory theme is Aaron Douglas's Song of the Towers. Douglas's depiction of the Black saxaphone player has some of the characteristics seen in Edmonia Lewis's Forever Free. Meta Warrick Fuller's Ethiopia Awakening provides yet another example of an artist whose works reflect an emancipatory dimension. Within the tradition of the foregoing are selected works by Elizabeth Catlett. Catlett's I Am a Negro Women series (which includes "Harriet," 1975, linoleum cut on paper 47/60, 12 x 10 inches, in the collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA), and numerous sculptures and prints reflect Catlett's participation in shaping and articulating the emancipatory theme in African American art.7



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February 2001