REVIEW: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

REVIEW: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

Elin Kaemmer-Baily is impressed by the vibrant and engaging exibition at the Tate Modern, London

Soul of a Nation is a stunning, yet sorrowful, exhibition currently showcased in the Tate Modern, London. The exhibition, which runs until the 22nd of October, covers 20 years of black art, beginning in 1963 (with the march on Washington) at the pinnacle of the American Civil Rights movement. The exhibition boasts great diversity in media: photography, oil paint on canvas, sculpture, metalwork, collage. The explosion of black pride and consciousness which challenged social convention during the late 20th century was importantly expressed through creative mediums which are powerfully compiled in this landmark exhibition.

One aspect of the exhibition explores the systematic racial injustice black artists endured during this politically-feverous period. This meant that their work was rarely celebrated to the extent of their white peers. Without appropriate recognition, black consciousness was unable to manifest itself in popular artistic trends. Soul of a Nation is, therefore, a mournful commemoration of the incredible work produced by a lost generation of black artists. In drawing attention to black artists whose recognition was inhibited by their social status, the exhibition brutally highlights the extreme extent to which their voices and talents were subject to systematic social and political oppression.

Should art serve to communicate social and political change, or to actually inflict it?

However, Soul of a Nation is not solely focused on critiquing an extensive history of efforts to oppress black consciousness. It is far from a show of politically-fuelled Black Power propaganda and instead offers an empowering celebration of black artists and their diversity. The exhibition is structured in order to succinctly map the mesh of conflicting discourse between artists about what a ‘black aesthetic’ should be, or if there should even be such a thing. Whilst, several pieces of work pay homage to important political figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davies, notable pioneers in the promotion and globalisation of black activism. In contrast, there are whole galleries devoted to wildly abstract pieces with no obvious connection to African-American culture (although often contextualised by their descriptions). Should art serve to communicate social and political change, or to actually inflict it? The diversity of the work showcased makes for a vibrant, engaging exhibition which effectively stimulates such discussion on a topic of monumental significance.


10th October 2017 at 12:00 pm

Images from

Hans Peter Schaefer