I

Narratives of African American Art and Identity
Section I Artists

Edward Mitchell Bannister

Grafton Tyler Brown

Robert Scott Duncanson

Meta Warrick Fuller

James V. Herring

Charles Ethan Porter

Henry O. Tanner

James VanDerZee





Strategic Subversions

A primary agenda for African American artists of the nineteenth century was to establish their right to participate in Western society. This they accomplished by mastering European American aesthetic traditions. Their success was dependent not only on satisfying the tastes of white patrons who were willing to support their forays into "high culture" but also on reaching the small pool of black patrons who could afford to purchase paintings and sculpture. Moreover, their artistic identity presented a direct challenge to the cultural superiority so deeply embedded in Western society. Against the backdrop of legislative repression and the threat of physical violence, one road to emancipation came through cultural achievement; assimilation served as a strategic weapon against racism.

Honoring the legacy of nineteenth century black artists, this section of the exhibition will feature works by such artists as Robert S. Duncanson, Edward Mitchell Bannister, and Charles Ethan Porter, as well as early twentieth century artists Meta Warrick Fuller, James V. Herring, Henry O. Tanner, and James VanDerZee. The work of these artists provides the first cornerstone for the discussion of racial and artistic identity that is the foundation of the exhibition.

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