Why Making a Portrait of a Black Woman Was a Form of Protest

Susannah Gardiner in Smithsonian:

Emma_amos_2011_photo_-_becket_loganFrom a description of the print now, in 2017, it sounds perfectly traditional. A black-and-white etching on paper, an art form that has been around for 500 years. A portrait of a woman. In the background, probably some kind of domestic interior. A simple title, American Girl. But in 1974, when artist Emma Amos made American Girl, now in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the country was roiling with social protest movements—for women’s liberation, for Black Power, for LGBT rights, for Native American rights. Once-silenced groups demanded to be seen and heard. Artists supported these protests not just by marching and writing but through visual arts. Black artists discussed whether particular mediums or styles advanced racial justice.

Romare Bearden, for example, had worked for years in collage, partly as a way to give prominence to images of real black individuals. Debate simmered over whether it was acceptable to be an abstract painter, or whether black artists’ work “needed to be about the black experience in some way,” most likely by depicting black people, says Alex Mann, the museum’s curator of prints and drawings. Some artists at the time looked to Africa for inspiration and sought to create art for and about African people the world over. Others made work that was overtly political or radical, ranging from sculpture in the form of a Molotov cocktail aimed at Aunt Jemima to prints and posters calling for action.

More here.