Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk

By September 17, 2022
colorful painting of a street scene showing multiple Black figures in colorful dress walking in a village
Jacob Lawrence, Market Scene, 1966; gouache on paper. Courtesy the Chrysler Museum of Art Museum.
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Twins Seven-Seven, Sea Ghost 3, c. 1968; ink on plywood. Courtesy the National Museum of African Art.
Jacob Lawrence, Street Scene in Lagos, 1966; tempera and gouache on paper. Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC.

Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club explores the connection between African American artist Jacob Lawrence and his contemporaries based in the Global South through the Nigerian publication Black Orpheus. The exhibition features over 125 objects, including Lawrence’s little-known 1964–65 Nigeria series, works by the artists featured in Black Orpheusarchival images, videos, and letters.

The Mbari Artists & Writers Club was an artistic organization of Nigerian-based artists, writers, and dramatists promoting modern African and international artistic practice. The core of the exhibition centers on the Mbari arts and culture magazine Black Orpheus (1957–67). The publication was one of the main vehicles for circulating fictional and non-fictional writings by African and African Diaspora writers. It also included reviews of international visual artists from throughout the African continent, India, Brazil, Japan, Austria, U.S., and Germany. Mbari also had galleries in Lagos, Ibadan and Osogbo, Nigeria, presenting the work of many of these artists, including Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Uche Okeke, Malangantana Ngwenya, Jacob Afolabi, Colette Oluwabamise Omogbai, Francis Newton Souza, Twins Seven-Seven, Wilson Tibério, Genaro de Carvalho, Agnaldo Manoel dos Santos, Susanne Wenger, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Demas Nwoko, and Avinash Chandra, among others.

Exhibition co-curators Kimberli Gant, PhD, the Chrysler Museum of Art’s McKinnon curator of modern & contemporary art and Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, PhD, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Françoise Billion Richardson curator of African art, will address how the featured artists grappled with representing their respective national and cultural identities while depicting visually striking works during the beginning of postcolonialism throughout the African continent and other parts of the world. The resulting objects were meant to both resonate with local communities and connect with broader Eurocentric notions of modernity.

from the exhibition text

Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, Untitled, 1966; oil on canvas. Courtesy the Chrysler Museum of Art.
Twins Seven-Seven, The Fisherman and the River Goddess with his Multicolored Fishes and the River Night Guard, 1960; oil, pastel, and ink on wood. Courtesy the National Museum of African Art. Photo by Franko Khoury.
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Jacob Lawrence, Four Sheep, 1964; tempera and gouache on paper. Courtesy the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation.
Naoko Matsubara, New England Forest in Winter, 1967; woodcut. Courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Ibrahim El Salahi, Victory of Truth, 1962; oil on masonite. Courtesy Vigo Gallery.

Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art, is on view at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia from October 7, 2022 to January 8, 2023.

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