An outstanding model of impactful Black art is making its way to the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale, the world’s biggest contemporary arts exhibition, which will take place this year from May 11 to Nov. 24.
“AfriICOBRA: Nation Time” has been selected as an official collateral event, the first show from South Florida to be represented. It will be mounted within the historic Venetian Gothic palazzo of Ca' Faccanon in Italy.
“AfriCOBRA: Nation Time” opened in November at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, marking the 50th anniversary of the Chicago-born Black Arts collective for which AfriCOBRA stands. Founded in 1968 by five young Black artists with a common interest in Transnational Black Aesthetics, the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists became one of the most distinctive visual voices in 20th-century American art. The exhibition's underlying themes – family, nationhood, rhythm, Black femininity and spirituality– are represented in more than 40 works, combining elements that distinguish the classic AfriCOBRA look: vibrant, “cool-ade” colors, bold text,and strong, positive Black imagery.
The show originated and is supported by the MOCA North Miami, along with Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago, the city of North Miami, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is presented by bardoLA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit arts organization and curated by Jeffreen M. Hayes, the executive director of Threewalls in Chicago.
“The fullness of Blackness is important in our global culture and AFRICOBRA addresses and connects the Diaspora in their art,” said Hayes. “While it represents this movement of nationhood in the 1970s, this exhibition explores the social and political fabric that continues to hold Black people together, even through the struggle in our contemporary moment.”
Critical visual voices in the Black Arts Movement in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu came together to represent the Black experience in a liberating, powerful art world context. Along with Napoleon Jones-Henderson and Nelson Stevens, who joined the group in 1969, they were able to reshape the mindset of Black communities by offering an expanded view of a defining period in American history and the Black excellence: the essence, resilience and brilliance of a marginalized culture and how its aesthetics relate to politics, culture and identity.
Historic documentation, archival photographs and ephemera are showcased throughout the exhibition, offering a unique and comprehensive narrative of AfriCOBRA’s birth and evolution and its impact on the art scenes of Washington, D.C., New York City and in Nigeria's capital Lagos. It presents pieces in multiple media, from sculpture and printmaking to fabrics, work by the founders five other early members that includes abstract paintings, family portraits, and imagery of Malcolm X and former Black Panther member Angela Davis.
Chana Sheldon, MOCA’s executive director, said that the exhibition was selected not only for its original impact but because it still serves as a platform and voice. The collective's members, she explained, have persisted in their work as artists, educators and community leaders, influencing the contemporary #blacklivesmatter movement.
"Venice recognizes it as an important show that still speaks of our time and explores history that has plenty of room for further exploration," Sheldon said. "It is history that needs to be revisited and examined further.”