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Kesha Bruce, I Am A Black Ocean. 2017.  48 x 36 inches. Mixed-Media on Canvas.

Abstraction: Form, Philosophy, & Innovation

The 29th Annual James A. Porter Colloquium held on April 6 – 8, 2018 will explore the development of abstract aesthetic legacies and the future of Abstraction across the African Diaspora. This colloquium aims to provide a platform for new scholarship and artistic perspectives on abstract art by African American and African Diasporic artists.  In addition to tracing the progression from the cultural influence of abstract African art to figurative and non-objective abstraction, one central interest of this colloquium is to investigate how artists used Abstraction for innovation or the introduction of new epistemologies.

Historically, leaders in Howard University’s art community such as Alain Locke and James A. Porter have played definitive roles in charting the evolution of abstract impulses in publications like The Negro in Art and Modern Negro Art. This tradition was augmented during the last quarter of the twentieth century in the Art Department with the design explorations of Lois Mailou Jones and Black Arts Movement artists. In the spirit of these art innovators, we seek to gather art scholars, curators, artists and other participants in the visual art landscape to critically engage art historical narratives and assess new developments in abstract art production.

Although there has been consistent interest in documenting and exhibiting abstract art by African Americans since the 1960s, over the past ten years, there has been a noticeable increase in projects exploring the topic such as Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction, (2006), Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art (2016) and Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today (2017). This colloquium aims to explore new revisionist art histories, to advance the discourse by critically examining recent developments and to forecast future stylistic and philosophical innovations. Complementing the interest in historical development, this colloquium will also consider the impact of Abstraction as an aesthetic shift that influences contemporary art practice.

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April 6 – 8, 2018

“Certainly less discussed is the strong voice of abstraction that developed among black artists…in painting and sculpture, a voice created by a critical mass of practitioners committed to experimentation with structure and materials.”

Kellie Jones

“To the Max: energy and experimentation,” Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964-1980 (New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 2006)

“…Art comes to have a life of its own…It comes to be an activity of discovery in that it seeks to find hitherto ignored or unknown combinations of forms, colors and textures and even psychological phenomena, and perhaps to cause new types of experience in the art as well as the viewer. Above all, it breaks away from its stagnation in too much tradition and establishes new traditions to be broken away from by coming generations of artists, thus contributing to the rise of cultural and general development.”

Norman Lewis

“Thesis,” 1946, reprinted in Norman Lewis: From Harlem Renaissance to Abstraction, (New York: Kenkelaba Gallery, 1989)

“Abstraction is flying. Abstracting is ascending to higher and higher levels of conceptual generalization; soaring back and forth, reflectively circling around above the specificity and immediacy of things and events in space and time…Abstraction is freedom from the socially prescribed and consensually accepted; freedom to violate in imagination the constraints of public practice, to play with conventions or to indulge them.”

Adrian Piper

“Flying,” Adrian Piper: Reflections 1967-1987, (New York, The Alternative Museum, 1987)