I had the immense good fortune to see the Charles White exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York a few days ago. The outcome of that experience for me was to shout from the rooftops that everyone needs to see the outcome of an unwavering commitment to creating powerful images of African Americans which White himself called “images of dignity”.
White died in 1979 after years of drawing and painting. Among his works are some recognized celebrities in African American history including: Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Langston Hughes and Sammy Davis Jr. Harry Belafonte produced a hypnotic video of a television broadcast which was inspired by White’s paintings. It can be watched here.
His perspectives on the people in his paintings and drawings are so powerful, inspiring and motivating. If I had to think of one word that encompassed my feeling about the experience, it would be the word “ALIVE”. Even the crowded MOMA gallery space was full of buzzing people discussing and exchanging and participating with the vibrant works on the walls.
White has been quoted as saying:
Art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place. It must adapt itself to human needs. It must ally itself with the forces of liberation. The fact is, artists have always been propagandists. I have no use for artists who try to divorce themselves from the struggle.
The exhibition is on through January 13, 2019.