2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion of African American culture that erupted in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City and spread across the cities of the greater Midwest, including Columbus, from 1918 to the 1950s. Organized by the Columbus Museum of Art
with Guest Curator Wil Haygood, the exhibition I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 offers a fresh look at the visual art and material culture of this groundbreaking moment in American cultural history, and serves as an anchor in a citywide celebration of the Harlem Renaissance.
This exhibition has its origins in September 2015, when the Lincoln Theater Association and the King Arts Complex celebrated the release of Wil Haygoods book Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, said Columbus Museum of Art Executive Director Nannette V. Maciejunes. For those of us in the audience, it became clear that much of Wils writing has been connected to the Harlem Renaissance and its continuing legacy. For me, it became clear that Wil was the perfect person to curate an exhibition exploring the Harlem Renaissance.
Guest Curator Wil Haygood grew up on the Near East Side of Columbus in a jazz-filled landscape that was an exuberant legacy of the Harlem Renaissance. He is best known as the author of The Butler, which was turned into an award-winning movie featuring, among others, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Alan Rickman, and Vanessa Redgrave. Haygood has also written biographies of Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, among others. In 1983, he was dispatched by the Boston Globe to write a three-part series on the Harlem Renaissance, which put him in direct contact with many of the artists. In his selections for the exhibition and his writing in the accompanying catalog, he captures the range and breadth of a sweeping movement, which saw the blossoming of a myriad of talents by an astonishing array of black artists, writers and musicians.
Researching the Harlem Renaissance today, as our nation is undergoing another racial crisis, it became clear to me that when freedom erupted in this country in the early 1900s, art and poetry and writing were both a fuel for and expression of that freedom, said Haygood. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that only light can drive out darkness. Throughout our nations history of dark tyranny against minorities, artists light has served to change minds.
Artists featured in this original exhibition include Romare Bearden, Allen Rohan Crite, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, Horace Pippin, and Augusta Savage. In addition, the exhibition presents an important selection of photographs by James Van Der Zee, as well as, dozens of vernacular photographs from the Ralph DeLuca Collection of African American Vernacular Photography. Through paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, contemporary documents and ephemera, the exhibition illuminates multiple facets of the erathe lives of its people, the art, the literature, the music and the social history. A selection of books, music, films and posters from the period further showcases the innovative and expansive cultural output produced. The range of works sheds light on the ways in which creativity transformed contemporary representations of the black experience in America.
More than 30 Columbus area arts and cultural organizations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance with programming throughout 2018 and into early 2019. There will be dozens of opportunities for the public to experience the work of Harlem Renaissance artists, their legacy and connection to Columbus, as well as the work of Columbus-based African American artists through exhibitions, performances, festivals, film, video, community conversations and more.