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Postcolonial Thoughts: We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85

by Christopher Hutchinson

Focusing on the work of black women artists, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 examines the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic priorities of women of color during the emergence of second-wave feminism. It is the first exhibition to highlight the voices and experiences of women of color—distinct from the primarily white, middle-class mainstream feminist movement—in order to reorient conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history in this significant historical period.

Presenting a diverse group of artists and activists who lived and worked at the intersections of avant-garde art worlds, radical political movements, and profound social change, the exhibition features a wide array of work, including conceptual, performance, film, and video art, as well as photography, painting, sculpture, and printmaking.

The artists represented in the exhibition include Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Kay Brown, Vivian E. Browne, Linda Goode Bryant, Beverly Buchanan, Carole Byard, Elizabeth Catlett, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Ayoka Chenzira, Christine Choy and Susan Robeson, Blondell Cummings, Julie Dash, Pat Davis, Jeff Donaldson, Maren Hassinger, Janet Henry, Virginia Jaramillo, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Lisa Jones, Loïs Mailou Jones, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Carolyn Lawrence, Samella Lewis, Dindga McCannon, Barbara McCullough, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Alva Rogers, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Coreen Simpson, Lorna Simpson, Ming Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 is organized by Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Rujeko Hockley, former Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Generous support for this exhibition is provided by the FordFoundation, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, the Brooklyn Museum’s Contemporary Art Acquisitions Committee, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, and The Barbara Lee Family Foundation.



The Experience

This exhibition was well worth the distance by train to see. It was well-executed and gave many thought-provoking avenues for reflection. This is not a critique or a review–more about the experience and the impressions left. The first piece one encounters is Marren Hassinger’s leaning. How is leaning radical? The first thought was this is not the preconceived notions of “Black art.” Statements of what it means to be radical were all through this exhibition. Hassinger’s leaning is radical because it does not fit the didactic overt narrative of propaganda yet it accomplishes all those things while being the precise bundles of groups of wire leaning on each other. Pure material expressing a direct narrative.


Paint must be paint

The next section to the right places Virginia Jarmillo’s large scale formal paintings against Howardena Pindell’s large scale textured formal surfaces. Again, how is this radical? These two women artists are pursuing their individual practice aware or unaware of each other but in this context a dialogue is forced by the curator, still contemplation versus bubbling texture. Both artists within the realm of pure abstraction. That is what is radical. This section proves a continuing history of “Black Art” that is in dialogue with each other. A history that is not outsider but has its own canon.

This contemplation occurs again at the photography section where Lorna Simpson goes head to head with Carrie Mae Weems. Once again, the curator places a discussion in a concentrated medium. The neoclassical realism of Simpson versus the gritty realism of Weems. These comparisons illustrate a narrative that occurs in every medium presented in the exhibition including video, performance, printmaking, sculpture, painting etc.


Protest & Propaganda

Brooklyn Museum / Erwin Gaspin
Power to the people: “Homage to My Young Black Sisters” by Elizabeth Catlett depicts a woman protesting, and is part of the Brooklyn Museum’s new “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” exhibition.

Elizabeth Catlett stole the show in the section on protest and propaganda. She gave a clinic on how to address social issues and still retain your studio practice without becoming reactionary. Catlett’s hand in craftsmanship can be seen from wood sculptures, prints and metalwork. In her hand, aesthetic, and material choices lay out what should be considered when tackling a subject matter. In these different media, it is still clear that it is authentically Catlett and it does not become formulaic. That is radical.

The end of the exhibition features the iconic Barbara Chase-Riboud before entering the secret room that the most iconic feminist piece ever, Judy Chicago’s Dinner party. Again we are placed with a radical thought, how does Barbara Chase-Riboud, Elizabeth Catlett, Maren Hassinger and other African American women artist’s work match up to the Dinner Party? Do these women’s work surpass the Dinner Party? Or are in line? All radical questions.


Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.



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