‘Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club’ celebrates international Creative exchange in 1960s West Africa.
Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari, 1964. Tempera over graphite on wove paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Dyke 1993.18.1 © Jacob Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. ‘Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club’ is co-organised by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
This fall, the Chrysler Museum of Art will present’ Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club’, the debut museum presentation of Jacob Lawrence’s Nigeria series of paintings and drawings—and the first in-depth look at the international artists who were members of the renowned Mbari Artists and Writers Club, many of whom Lawrence met during an extended stay in Nigeria in 1964. These artists, including Lawrence, contributed to Black Orpheus, a radical arts and culture journal published in Nigeria between 1957 and 1975. After opening at the Chrysler Museum from October 8, 2022 to January 8, 2023, the exhibition will travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art from February 10 to May 7, 2023, followed by the Toledo Museum of Art from June 3 to September 3, 2023.
“This exhibition explores an incredible moment in the global exchange of ideas, when people and countries around the world were fighting for independence from colonialism and when the civil rights movement was achieving success in the United States,” said Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the exhibition’s co- curator and the Chrysler Museum of Art’s former McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, now Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. “Traveling to Africa twice in the early 1960s, Jacob Lawrence connected to a vibrant crosscurrent of political and social ideas circulating there, as richly illustrated by the writing and art featured in Black Orpheus. Those artists, in turn, were adapting and integrating modernist theories of art with their local styles, customs, and life experiences. The results can be seen in Lawrence’s less-well-known Nigeria series—and in the remarkable array of works in this show that represent the global south during a period of transition.”
The exhibition is organized into five sections to guide viewers from the singularity of Lawrence’s series, to the diversity of the Mbari Club artists, and then further into the artists working in the global south during this period.
Jacob Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, first traveled to Africa in 1962, starting in Nigeria, to present an exhibition of work from several of his series: Migration, Under the Black Belt, and War. His plan was to introduce Africans to moments in African American history that he hoped would resonate with them, featuring themes of joy and sorrow, oppression and triumph. While there, he met with artists affiliated with the legendary Mbari Artists and Writers Club, from visual artists like Bruce Onobrakpeya and Vincent Kofi, to writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, who were themselves exploring and critiquing Western art traditions and publishing their work in the groundbreaking journal Black Orpheus.
In 1964, the Lawrences returned to Nigeria for a nine-month stay, again meeting with contemporaries— and during which time he finalized his more than 25 works Nigeria series. In this series, he explored themes of spirituality and community, often centered on the marketplace, a crucial gathering place in Nigerian culture. After returning to the United States, this series was presented at his New York dealer’s gallery in 1965—but has not been shown together in its entirety since then.
‘Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club’ is co-organised by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art and curated by Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum of Art’s former McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art who was named the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year, and by Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, Ph.D., the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Françoise Billion Richardson curator of African art.
The exhibition will be on view from the 8th of October 2022 until the 8th of January 2023. For more information, please visit the Chrysler Museum of Art.