We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s will feature over 70 paintings, photographs, sculptures, and prints produced by black artists living and working in Philadelphia during the 50 year period. The exhibition focuses on a range of this city’s organizations and institutions and considers the degree to which they offered black artists a platform from which to launch their careers and have a voice.
The curatorial framework is anchored between two significant historical events. In 1925 Philadelphian Alain Locke’s published “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” an important moment in the New Negro Arts Movement that issued a call to black American artists to find inspiration in their African heritage. The exhibition concludes in the 1970s with the nation’s bicentennial year, when American ideals of liberty and equality were being reconsidered in a contemporary context.
Unique to this exhibition are the voices of the artists who lived during this period. The curators conducted a series of 14 interviews with artists and their families, museum directors, art dealers, and scholars. The interviews provide original insight into the workings of Philadelphia’s art institutions and the roles these institutions played in the artists’ lives. In addition to serving as the foundation for the exhibition catalogue, these interviews shaped the direction and development of the exhibition, revealing unknown artists and under recognized institutions and organizations whose inclusion has added significantly to the breadth of the show.
The exhibition considers the impact of a broad range of academic, professional, commercial, cultural, and exhibiting organizations and institutions. These include the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Works Progress Administration; the Barnes Foundation; the Pyramid Club; the Philadelphia Public Schools; the Wharton Center and other settlement houses, the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center; the National Conference of Artists; the Brandywine Workshop; the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, as well as a number of Philadelphia academies, museums, universities, galleries, and artist groups.
Those featured in the exhibition and catalogue are Laura Wheeler Waring (1887-1948); Allen Freelon (1895-1960); Dox Thrash (1892-1965); Selma Burke (1900-1995); Paul Keene, Jr. (1920-2009); Ellen Powell Tiberino (1938-1992); Charles Searles (1937- 2004); Barbara Bullock (b. 1938); Moe Brooker (b. 1940); Barkley L. Hendricks (b. 1945), Allan L. Edmunds (b. 1949), and many others.