Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club explores the connection between African American artist Jacob Lawrence and his contemporaries based in the Global South through the Nigerian publication Black Orpheus. The exhibition features over 125 objects, including Lawrence’s little-known 1964–65 Nigeria series, works by the artists featured in Black Orpheus, archival images, videos, and letters.
The Mbari Artists & Writers Club was an artistic organization of Nigerian-based artists, writers, and dramatists promoting modern African and international artistic practice. The core of the exhibition centers on the Mbari arts and culture magazine Black Orpheus (1957–67). The publication was one of the main vehicles for circulating fictional and non-fictional writings by African and African Diaspora writers. It also included reviews of international visual artists from throughout the African continent, India, Brazil, Japan, Austria, U.S., and Germany. Mbari also had galleries in Lagos, Ibadan and Osogbo, Nigeria, presenting the work of many of these artists, including Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Uche Okeke, Malangantana Ngwenya, Jacob Afolabi, Colette Oluwabamise Omogbai, Francis Newton Souza, Twins Seven-Seven, Wilson Tibério, Genaro de Carvalho, Agnaldo Manoel dos Santos, Susanne Wenger, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Demas Nwoko, and Avinash Chandra, among others.
Exhibition co-curators Kimberli Gant, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, NOMA’s Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art, address how the featured artists grappled with representing their respective national and cultural identities while depicting visually striking works during the beginning of postcolonialism throughout the African continent and other parts of the world. The resulting objects were meant to both resonate with local communities and connect with broader Eurocentric notions of modernity.
Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club is co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The presentation in New Orleans has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.
Gouache on paper
Collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art. © Jacob Lawrence/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York