Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Aaron Douglas

Aspects of Negro Life: An Idyll of the Deep South (study) , late 1930s

Tempera on paper

9.75" x 42"

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Aspects of Negro Life: An Idyll of the Deep South

Toward the end of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas began to incorporate distinct political and social messages into his stylistic vocabulary. A primary example of this new political symbolism can be observed in the tempera on paper version of An Idyll of the Deep South. The Driskell Collection image is a smaller version of the third panel of Douglas's mural series Aspects of Negro Life, commissioned in 1934 by the WPA for the Harlem Branch of the New York City Public Library.

In An Idyll of the Deep South, Douglas subverts the myth of the "happy southern plantation Negro" by flanking the central theme of the painting-cheerful and contented African Americans singing, dancing, and playing music-with the images of black southern reality, the aftermath of a brutal lynching and black workers toiling in the fields. This reality of racism and economic hardship is underscored through Douglas's incorporation of a star and its emanating ray of light in the left-hand corner of the composition. Although this star has generally been perceived as a representation of the North Star, in April of 1971, during a conversation with David Driskell, Douglas revealed that in fact the star was his version of the red star of Communism. Douglas added that he had included this star in An Idyll of the Deep South to illustrate the hope held by some black Harlem intellectuals that true equality might be attained through the alternative policies of communism and socialism.   T. F.


David Driskell
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II. Emergence
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Aaron Douglas biography

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