Race in America comes with a lot of struggle. It has been over fifty years since segregation ended, and race is still the cause of debate over police brutality, discrimination, and hate crimes. In the public eye, race relations are a more muted topic. Most people, white and black say that the time of racial cynicism is over. Race relations now are less defined by politics and more by experiences in schools, sports, popular culture and religion. In the arts, race is becoming more defined as the celebration of culture.
One well known and celebrated African American artist is Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence was born in 1917 and grew up in a segregated America. He was best known for his portrayal of African American life in his paintings. Lawrence’s style was remising of Pablo Picasso’s cubism, but with more color and darker features. He referred to his style of art as “Dynamic Cubism”, a style that is carried on by several other African American artists today. Lawrence was just thirteen when he was first introduced to art when his family moved to New York. One of his art teachers say that Lawrence had great potential and urged him to study hard and get into a good school.
At the age of sixteen he dropped out of high school and took a job at a printing plant and continued to take art classes lead by Charles Alston, another African American artist at the time. Alston lead Lawrence to the American Arts School where he met Augusta Savage who helped him get a scholar ship to the school as well as a work study position. He worked and studied hard for many years. During this time he had created many notable paintings, one of which he is best known for “The Migration Series.”
“The Migration Series” is a 60 panel set of narrative paintings that portray the migration of African America’s from the rural South into Northern states. This is a period of time that lasted from 1910-1960. Lawrence’s paintings evoke a lot of emotion from the viewer and the modern art scene that it is associated with also has been picked apart and examined by many who were oppressed by the whites during that time period. In the excerpt Black Culture and Postmodernism, Barbara Kruger and Phil Mariani explain, “from my point of view, I remain quite suspicious of the term “postmodernism” for two reasons. First, because of the precursor term “modern” itself has not simply been used to devalue the cultures of oppressed and exploited peoples, but also has failed to deeply illumine the internal complexity of these cultures. Second, the sheer facticity of black people in the United States historically embodies and enacts the “postmodern” themes of degraded otherness and subaltern marginality.” (Kruger and Mariani, pp 91). Most black people shunned this movement. Lawrence knew this and that is the reason he separated himself from the postmodernism movement.
The oppression of African Americans from the late 1800’s to the early 1960’s almost equaled that of the Native Americans. Lawrence...