A legendary artistic group of the 1960’s and 1970’s was the group, OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture-as written in Patton’s book or Organization of Black Artists of Chicago-referring to Nubia Kai’s description ). OBAC, founded by Jeff Donaldson and Wadsworth Jarrell, emerged out of the Black Nationalist movement in Chicago. In an article taken from The International Review of African American Art (1998), Jeff Donaldson stated that OBAC’s major objective was to organize and coordinate an “artistic cadre” in support of 1960s political struggle for equality for African Americans. Choosing a theme of African American heroes and legends, the members of OBAC created the controversial Wall of Respect (figure 2), which sparked a revolutionary trend of similar walls emerging in major cities across the nation (Patton, id., p. 216).
OBAC gave birth to another dynamic artist organization known today as AfriCOBRA. The ideology of the AfriCOBRA members was to use specific visual elements to express the intrinsic qualities believed to be within all African American people. AfriCOBRA artists created fascinating pieces of art displaying bright, vivid colors and words to communicate positive modes of black thought. In the book, African American Art and Artists (1990), Samella Lewis wrote:
“The credo of numerous African American artists who gained attention in the late 1960’s and early 70’s demands that they view themselves first as responsible members of cultural groups and secondarily as individual contributors. Because the artists believed that maximum fulfillment is obtained by pooling their efforts, they have joined organizations that foster coordinated explorations of African American aesthetics. The work of Jeff Donaldson, an AfriCOBRA founder, must be considered within the context of that organization.”
AfriCOBRA was committed to making art that acted as a voice for the people, a repressed African American people, as opposed to creating art for art’s sake. Dedicated to making art understandable, relevant and accessible to ordinary people, AfriCOBRA aimed to create images that Black Americans could relate to and that would communicate black ideological perspectives in the dominant public sphere or the greater marketplace of ideas. As a form of Black protest and for the cause of Black awareness, the group formulated the distinct aesthetic principals of awesome imagery and free symmetry, illuminate shine and high intense color that appealed to the intuitive senses as opposed to the intellect alone (Kai, 1990). The artists of AfriCOBRA developed imagery and symmetry that was free like jazz rhythms, yet awesome and captivating to the viewer. The illuminate shine was to radiate outward from within each piece of work produced by an AfriCOBRA artist just as does the human aura (Patton, id.). This was achieved through the precise coordination of color, form and space. Colors, high intense “Kool Aid™” colors, were to shine, vibrate and stimulate the viewer (Kai, id.). This was accomplished by repetition of high intense color within and throughout the symmetry of the composition. Jeff Donaldson’s work titled, JamPactJelliTite (1988, see figure 3) is a perfect example of the technical mastery and incorporation of AfriCOBRA philosophy in a work. Influenced by jazz music, the piece reverberates with color and action. The use of symmetry is distinctly evident and the sublime images work he viewer’s intellect (Donaldson, 1998).
As time elapsed, more artist groups and organizations emerged to analyze, criticize and document the aesthetics principles and relevance of social works. With all being said in this regard, it seemed to have been the groups that evolved out of the political climate of the equality struggle of the 1960s and 70s that left the most purposeful impact on society. This impact has lasted through turbulence and criticism to influence the following decades of the 1980s, 1990s and the new millennium.
©2009. The above article is an excerpt from Black Ideology: Civil Rights, Black Power, And the Visual Communication of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s (Spring 2009), by Tony McEachern, Assistant Professor. Top photo of AfriCOBRA (2007) contributed by David Smedley, Professor. Howard University Department of Art.
- Donaldosn, J. (1998). The International Review of African American Art. Hampton: Hampton University Museum.
- Lewis, S. (1990). African American Art and Artists. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
- Kai, N. (1990). AfriCOBRA Universal Aesthetics. Atlanta: Nexus Contemporary Art Center.
- McEachern, T. (2009). Black Ideology: Civil Rights, Black Power, And the Visual Communication of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s
- Patton, S. (1998). African American Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Shelby, T. (2005). We Who Are Dark. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.