Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)

Two Early Films From John Akomfrah

Icarus Films Darrick Harris in “Seven Songs for Malcolm X,” by John Akomfrah.

Two early films from the British-Ghanian documentarian John Akomfrah are on view at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem, one eyeing black history, the other the future. Both are thought-provoking, and they coincide with the premiere of this director’s latest work, “The Nine Muses,” at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Seven Songs for Malcolm X” (1993) delineates that civil rights leader with contributions from his wife, Betty Shabazz; Spike Lee; the writer Thulani Davis; the lawyer William Kunstler; and Wilfred Little (Malcolm X’s brother), among others, often in Mr. Akomfrah’s signature diffuse lighting and tinted frames. Slow-moving staged tableaus of scenes from Malcolm X’s life add a formal solemnity.

Much of the biographical information here is familiar, but there is intriguing speculation. Ms. Davis reads from F.B.I. surveillance documents, while Kunstler says Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were planning to join forces shortly before Malcolm X was killed. A. Peter Bailey, a former aide and Ebony magazine editor, citing the F.B.I.’s infiltration of the Nation of Islam, says it must have known of his impending assassination. Most compelling is footage of the man himself, in all his focused, forceful, articulate and determined charisma.

Mr. Akomfrah’s more abstract “Last Angel of History” (1996) explores the intersection of African-American culture with technology and science fiction, pursuing, for example, alien abduction as a metaphor for the displacement of slaves, and music sampling as a form of digital race memory. The film suffers from dated computer graphics and some belabored hair-splitting over musical subgenres (say, techno versus jungle), but it offers an abundance of challenging ideas from the likes of the science-fiction author Samuel R. Delany, Bernard A. Harris Jr. (the first black astronaut to walk in space), DJ Spooky and the actress Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura of the original “Star Trek”).

SEVEN SONGS FOR MALCOLM X

Opens on Monday in Manhattan.

Directed by John Akomfrah; written by Mr. Akomfrah and Edward George; director of photography, Arthur Jafa; edited by Joy Chamberlain; production design by Susan Dowlatshahi; produced by Lina Gopaul; released by Icarus Films. Shown with “The Last Angel of History” at the Maysles Cinema, 343 Malcolm X Boulevard, between 127th and 128th Streets, Harlem. Running time: 52 minutes. This film is not rated.

THE LAST ANGEL OF HISTORY

Opens on Monday in Manhattan.

Directed by John Akomfrah; written by Edward George; edited by Justin Amsden; music by Trevor Mathison, with songs by Sun Ra and Kraftwerk; produced by Lina Gopaul and Avril Johnson; released by Icarus Films. Shown with “Seven Songs for Malcolm X” at the Maysles Cinema, 343 Malcolm X Boulevard, between 127th and 128th Streets, Harlem. Running time: 45 minutes. This film is not rated.

John Anderson is a writer specializing in films.

By ANDY WEBSTER – Published: October 9, 2011
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Faith Ringgold: Painting, Fiber Art, Sculpture

Born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, New York, Faith Ringgold is considered to be one of the most important living African American artists. Working in a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, and performance, Ringgold is best known for her “story quilts” that combine narrative paintings with quilted borders and text.

Ringgold’s mother, a fashion designer and seamstress, nurtured her creative abilities from a young age. Ringgold attended City College of New York where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Education in 1955. She taught art in New York’s public schools from 1955–1973 and earned her Master’s degree in art in 1959. During this time, Ringgold also married and divorced jazz pianist Robert Earl Wallace with whom she had two daughters. In 1962, she was remarried to Burdette Ringgold.

Ringgold’s oil paintings and posters of the mid-to-late 1960s carried strong political messages and were supportive of the civil-rights movement. In 1970 she participated in a demonstration against the exclusion of black and women artists by New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. This resulted in the inclusion of Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in the Whitney Sculpture Biennial, making them the first black women ever to exhibit at the Museum.

In the early 1970s Ringgold abandoned traditional painting and began making unstretched acrylic paintings on canvas with soft cloth frames after viewing an exhibition of Tibetan art at the Rijk Museum in Amsterdam. During this time, Ringgold also began lecture tours and traveling exhibitions to colleges and universities around the United States. In 1973, she retired from teaching altogether to continue touring and create art full time.

In 1983 Ringgold began to combine images and handwritten text in her painted “story quilts,” which conveyed imaginative narratives. In 1984, a 20-year retrospective of her work was held at The Studio Museum in Harlem. That same year, Ringgold also became a professor at the University of California, San Diego, a position that she still holds today.

Over the course of her career, Ringgold has published 12 children’s books including the award winning “Tar Beach” which is based on her story quilt. As well, a book of her memoirs was published in 1995. She has exhibited in major museums in the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Ringgold is in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art.

Retrospectives of Ringgold’s work have been held by Rutgers University, New Brunswick (1973), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1984), and the Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, Hempstead (1990). Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions devoted to political art, women’s art, contemporary quilts, and African-American art, as well as in the Whitney Biennial (1985). Ringgold has received many honours, including the National Endowment for the Arts awards in sculpture (1978) and painting (1989), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1987), and fifteen honorary doctorates.

Ringgold currently lives and works in La Jolla, California, and Englewood, New Jersey. For more information, visit Faith Ringgold.com.

October 8, 2011 By Leave a Comment

American Artist Romare Bearden’s Work Honored on Forever Stamp

Renaissance Man Transcended Beyond “The Block”

HARLEM, N.Y., Sept. 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The artwork of Romare Bearden, one of America’s most prolific artists, is featured on a set of four Forever stamps dedicated today by the U.S. Postal Service during a first-day-of-issuance ceremony at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

“Today, we are proud to dedicate a sheet of stamps that honor a man who became one of the 20th Century’s most distinguished, important and inventive American artists,” said Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman. “Using various materials, such as foil, cut paper, and fabric, Romare Bearden transformed collage into a forceful means of expression with mainstream appeal — and in doing so, he framed the complexities of the African-American experience in a broad historical and cultural context.”

Joining Stroman to dedicate the stamp were E.T. Williams, chairman of the Board of Directors, Romare Bearden Foundation; Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Raschelle Parker, manager, Marketing, New York District, U.S. Postal Service.

Bearden is celebrated for his groundbreaking approach to collage along with his work in watercolors, oils, and other media. The four collages by Bearden, depicted above, and as they appear on the stamp sheet from left to right are: Conjunction (1971), Odysseus: Poseidon, The Sea God—Enemy of Odysseus (1977), Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman (1964) and Falling Star (1979). Art director Derry Noyes chose a different work by Bearden for each of the four stamp designs.

Among Bearden’s early paintings were figural works recalling his childhood roots in the South, done in gouache on brown paper. His paintings of the 1940s also were inspired by literary sources such as the Bible, Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry, and Homer’s Iliad. Bearden turned to writing lyrics for songs, including the hit “Seabreeze.” Music, in particular jazz and the blues, was a strong influence on Bearden’s art.

Bearden’s monumental cityscape, The Block, was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. His art has also been praised for depicting African-American experience in its full dimensions and is in the permanent collections of major museums across the nation. Considered one of America’s greatest collagists, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1987 by then President Reagan.

Ordering First-Day-of-Issue Postmarks
Customers have 60 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their local Post Office™ facility, at The Postal Store® website at www.usps.com/shop, or by calling 800-STAMP-24. They should affix the stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes (to themselves or others), and place them in a larger envelope addressed to:

Romare Bearden Stamp
Postmaster
421 Eighth Ave., Room 2029B
New York, NY 10199-9998

After applying the first day of issue postmark, the Postal Service will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for the postmark. All orders must be postmarked by Nov. 28, 2011.

Ordering First-Day Covers
Stamp Fulfillment Services also offers first-day covers for new stamp issues and Postal Service stationery items postmarked with the official first-day-of-issue cancellation. Each item has an individual catalog number and is offered in the quarterly USA Philatelic Catalog. Customers may request a free catalog by calling 800-STAMP-24 or writing to:

Information Fulfillment
Dept. 6270
U.S. Postal Service
PO Box 219014
Kansas City, MO 64121-9014

Philatelic Products
There are five philatelic products available for this stamp issue:

  • 467763, First-Day Cover Set of 4, $3.52
  • 467768, Digital Color Postmark Set of 4, $6.40
  • 467776, Diary Page and Pane, $12.95
  • 467791, Ceremony Program, $6.95
  • 467799, Cancellation Keepsake (4 Digital Color Postmarks w/Pane), $13.95

To learn more about the Postal Service’s Stamp Program and upcoming stamp dedication ceremonies, visit beyondtheperf.com.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

We’re everywhere so you can be anywhere: uspseverywhere.com

Romare Bearden Retrospective: Once-Neglected Artist Gets His Due

In the early weeks of 1969, protesters gathered before the entrances of New York City’s major art museums to complain about the institutions’ treatment of African-American artists. The public demonstrations faulted the museums for ignoring the achievements of contemporary black painters and sculptors and shunning the input of black curators. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one activist handed out leaflets that called the neglect an “insidious segregation,” while at the Museum of Modern Art, one demonstrator held a sign, “Retrospective for Romare Bearden Now,” that championed an artist who should have been a household name.

Four decades later, everything has changed, and it’s hard to believe that someone like Bearden was once absent from the walls of America’s foremost exhibit halls. A traveling show now at the Museum of the African Diaspora presents him in his full majesty, including the collage work that came to define him for a more general audience. In the ’60s and ’70s, Bearden’s collages — heaps of faces, limbs, and objects that told epic narratives of their subjects — made the covers of well-known publications. Bearden peopled his art with African-Americans who had big, expressive eyes; made each body a mélange of cutouts, so that shoulders, hands, and feet were out of proportion; and played with iconic symbols from the present and the past, like U.S. flags, African masks, and jazz instruments.

In Bearden’s interpretive assemblages, you can see the influence of Picasso‘s Cubism, Matisse’s colorful renderings, Diego Rivera‘s mural art, Japanese woodblock prints, African textiles, and other traditions, but his work is never derivative. He internalized the history of art and funneled it through his own experience as an African-American from the South who moved to New York City at an early age and wrestled with his place in the world. Bearden found himself welcome in several cultures — he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, for example — but he would inevitably return to his roots. His legacy includes bringing African-American art into the mainstream. He died in 1988 at age 76.

“He was an artist who was profoundly aware of his place as an artist of color,” says MOAD executive director Grace C. Stanislaus, a former president of the Romare Bearden Foundation, as she sits in the main gallery of the exhibition. “He was very proud of that place. And he translated that in very unique and interesting ways in his art.”

Almost 100 graphic works — including lithographs, collagraphs, screen prints, and etchings — are featured in “From Process to Print.” They show Bearden’s versatility and his emphasis on universal themes, especially groups of people trying to navigate their lives in unison. A jazz sextet performs at a nightclub (“Jamming at the Savoy”), a family of four gathers around a table to eat (“The Family”), and a phalanx of religious followers prepares themselves in sacred waters (“Baptism”) — all timeless scenes that in Bearden’s fantastical renditions become patchwork quilts of ritual, mystery, and distortion. It’s hard to take your eyes off a Bearden work, because there are always layers of arresting colors or figures to decode, whether it’s the naked woman tucked beside a wall in “The Family,” the startling eye in the family’s tablecloth, or the red-and-yellow sun motif that accentuates the performers in “Jamming.” He wanted people to guess at the meanings behind his work, to see his paintings, collages, and engravings as dense windows into bigger issues. Race was one of those issues, but certainly not the only one.

“All of painting is a kind of talking about life or society, but it doesn’t need to be overtly so,” Bearden once said. “Often we don’t know how to read it. Alice in Wonderland talked about a lot of these things, about English morals and customs of the Victorian era, but we thought it was a children’s fairy tale.”

The 1969 New York protests were prompted by a single event: the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Harlem on My Mind” exhibit, which completely ignored Bearden (who grew up in Harlem) and other established African-American artists, and was seen as a shortsighted and patronizing attempt at inclusion. Two years after the demonstrations, Bearden and other black artists were recognized in exhibits, with Bearden getting the MOMA show the demonstrator had demanded. The 1971 retrospective traveled the country, including to Berkeley’s University Art Museum, and Bearden was subsequently honored with the government’s highest honor for artists, the National Medal of Arts (presented to him by then-President Ronald Reagan), and named by Temple University professor Molefi Asante as one of the 100 greatest African Americans, a list that included Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, John Coltrane, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, August Wilson, Malcolm X, and only one other artist: the sculptor Edmonia Lewis.

On the first day of the MOAD exhibit, large groups of young students came through, and each time the museum’s docent would point out recurring motifs in Bearden’s work and ask how the students felt about the art. Mostly, they were too shy to voice an opinion, but then they wandered off in smaller groups and began chatting among themselves — teenagers taking in Bearden’s art for the first time and professing to have crushes on certain pieces. That’s the thing about Romare Bearden. You want to stand there and study his work — really study it — before coming to any conclusion. With Bearden, the world isn’t divided into black and white — only shades of gray that he brings to life in startling ways.