Barbara Morgan (American, 1900–1992), Pearl Primus, Speak to Me of Rivers (1), 1944, Silver gelatin print (printed 1970s – 1980s), University Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Courtesy of the Barbara Morgan Archive. (UM 2009.12.1)

African Americans and the American Scene, 1929–1945

January 14, 2012 - April 22, 2012

African Americans and the American Scene, 1929—1945 explores the role of African Americans in the visual and performing arts during the Great Depression. Shaken by the economic collapse, the country experienced a profound crisis of national identity.  Artists began to picture the “American Scene,” subjects culled from daily life such as farms, labor, picnics, and landscapes.  African American culture was used as source material for depicting the American Scene. Furthermore, federal funding for the arts during the Depression provided opportunities for white and black artists alike. Through visual art, dance, and film, African Americans and the American Scene endeavors to sift through the complexities of racial representation in art and the social inclusion and exclusion that affected black artists’ and performers’ access to their medium of choice.

Artists featured in this exhibition include Thomas Hart Benton, Walker Evans, Robert Gwathmey, Dorothea Lange, Aaron Siskind, and Marion Post Wolcott. Artwork by African American artists Samuel Brown, Jacob Lawrence, and William H. Johnson will highlight the ways that black artists engaged with the American Scene movement.  The visual art from the 30s and 40s will be paired with Barbara Morgan’s photographs of African American modern dancer Pearl Primus and artistic storyboards from the film The Emperor Jones, starring Paul Robeson.

This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the establishment of the Williams College Museum of Art Mellon Curatorial Fellowship for Diversity in the Arts.