Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Jacob Lawrence

We Declare Ourselves Independents, 1955

(From the Struggle Series)

Egg tempera on cardboard

16" x 12"

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We Declare Ourselves Independents

In 1955, while in residency at the Yaddo Foundation in Saratoga Springs, New York, Jacob Lawrence began the series entitled Struggle: From the History of the American People as a testament to man's general struggle for freedom as the United States gained independence and self-sufficiency as a nation.

We Declare Ourselves Independent, the sixth painting of the thirty-panel Struggle Series, illustrates a man pulling an enormous load of what appears to be hay or wheat. Using the technique of abbreviated composition, Lawrence eliminated the standard foreground, middle, and background in this work in favor of the extreme close-up. This absence of compositional depth enhances Lawrence's use of light and dark, color, and form. In this case, the farmer and his crop become intertwined, together forming one massive entity severed only by the strong diagonal lines of the farmer's scythe, rake, and pitch fork.

In a similar fashion to his earlier series, Lawrence included historical quotations within Struggle to emphasize its narrative structure. For instance, the quotation for the panel We Declare Ourselves Independent, taken from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, states, "...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour." This statement combined with Lawrence's use of a magnified perspective underscores the importance of the common man and his efforts both individually and as a group in the struggle for a better life. Lawrence would later reassert his beliefs in the importance of struggle during a lecture in 1982: "Man's struggle is a very beautiful thing...the struggle that we go through as human beings enables us to develop, to take on further dimension."  T. F.


David Driskell
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III. The Black Academy
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Jacob Lawrence biography

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