Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists

By Jontyle Theresa Robinson | Go to book overview

movement in black art, music, and literature, it "was also a significant moment in the history of . . . black lesbians and gay men . . . and the . . . social networks they created-played a crucial role in the [visual arts], in the blues, in the clubs, [in the music] of the Renaissance." 68

Gladys Bentley was a full-figured black woman with a magnificent growling voice who performed in a white tuxedo and white top hat. She was a talented pianist and she was a lesbian. To deny her is to wholly deny the Harlem Renaissance. Gladys Bentley is our sister. Simpson gives us this information and asks that we consider people and their differences. This is the grammar through which a new millennium is made. We learn to accept people and their differences and to aid and assist when there are people in need.

All of these artists in one way or another have given us a new language for the twenty-first century. They have demonstrated in their own grammar that they understand not only who they are, but what they -- and we -- must do. Many of them know each other and have been influenced by each other. This catalogue and exhibition reveal an undeniable cohesiveness. These artists may work in isolated pockets, they may say things differently, and they may see things differently, but there is irrefutable unanimity. They are our passage to the twenty-first century. They have acknowledged that they are vigilant, enduring black women who will continue to contribute positively to life in the Americas and abroad on myriad levels, forever free, as they usher in a new century.


NOTES
1.
In planning for our new museum, members of the museum committee visited every building on Spelman's campus to inventory the works in our collection.
2.
For many years sculpture-related items dating, perhaps, from the Prophet era, were kept by the maintenance division but were eventually discarded after no one claimed them.
3.
V. Y. Mudimbe, From "primitive art" to "memoriae loci" Human Studies 16 ( 1993), p. 106.
6.
Betye Saar, interview by Ariel Brown, Los Angeles, California, October 19, 1995.
9.
Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought. Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment ( New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 95.
12.
Freida High Tesfagiorgis, "Afrofemcentrism and Its Fruition in the Art of Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold", Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, vol. 4, no. 1 ( Spring 1987): 25-29. See also "In Search of A Discourse and Critiques That Center the Art of Black Women Artists," in Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women, ed. Stanlie M. James and Abena P. A. Busia ( New York: Routledge, 1993).
13.
Arna Alexander Bontemps and Jacqueline Fonvielle-Bontemps, Forever Free: Art by African American Women 1862-1980, exh. cat. ( Alexandria, VA: Stephenson, 1980), p. ii.
14.
Howardena Pindell, "Art World Racism: A Documentation", New Art Examiner, vol. 16, no. 7 ( March 1989): 32-36.
15.
Lowery Stokes Sims quoted in Patricia Failing, "Black Artists Today: A Case of Exclusion", Art News, vol. 88, no. 3 ( March 1989):125.
16.
Lois Jones, interview with the author, Washington, D.C., October 15, 1995.
17.
Elizabeth Catlett, interview by Niambi Sims, New York City, October 23, 1995.

-36-

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