- Title: African-American artists' portrayals of racism and segregation on show in Paris
- Date: 4th October 2016
- Summary: ***WARNING CONTAINS NUDITY*** PAINTING BY MICKALENE THOMAS, "ORIGINE OF THE UNIVERSE" (2012), TAKING OFF FROM GUSTAVE COURBET'S "THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD"
- Embargoed: 19th October 2016 16:57
- Keywords: Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac segregation racism race African-American slavery Barack Obama Donald Trump election
- Location: PARIS, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Art,Arts/Culture/Entertainment
- Reuters ID: LVA00452LC9JT
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: PLEASE NOTE THIS EDIT CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES AND NUDITY
"The Color Line," an exhibition on African-American artists who portrayed segregation and forms of racism in the United States throughout the past decades, opened in Paris on Tuesday (October 4) at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum.
The art show comes as race relations are debated in the U.S. presidential campaign, especially with contentious police killings of black men, and allegations that Donald Trump is "racist".
The phrase "The Color Line" was the title of an article by abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, referring to segregation. Writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois said that "the color line" was to be the "problem of the 20th century."
As early as the 19th century, African-American painters were already highlighting racial struggles.
Robert Duncanson's "Uncle Tom and Little Eva," completed in 1853, is viewed as the artist's depiction of salvation for both white men and slaves, mirroring the theme of the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
After slavery was abolished and the civil war ended in 1877, blacks were free but were not given equal rights.
The exhibition's curator, art critic Daniel Soutif, said that while African-American artists had diverse styles, they shared a common history which animated their work.
"The role of these artists was essentially to construct an image of the black person that was different from the one transmitted by racist images, by stereotypes," Soutif told Reuters.
A section of the exhibition focuses on entertainment. Deplored as racist but wildly popular, Vaudeville or Minstrel acts featured white actors wearing dark make-up to ridicule African-Americans.
Some black actors turned the parody around, covering themselves up too, to ape whites aping blacks.
Bert Williams, a respected black performer, joined Vaudeville but avoided the stereotypes and instead, questioned class divisions.
Aaron Douglas's "Into Bondage" from 1936 is his rendering of enslaved Africans bound for the Americas, in optimistic blue tones viewed as a symbol of hope.
Lynchings between 1880 and 1980 were a strong theme in African-American art - featured in the celebrated portrait "Mob Victim" by Lois Mailou Jones and the striking linographs of Hale Aspacio Woodruff.
The exhibition takes viewers through a sweep of the civil rights movement, the rise of Harlem, and introduces the new millennium with contemporary art work, and media featuring Barack Obama's historic presidency.
"Barack Obama, in my opinion, has been a great president. He's a president that will be remembered in history, not simply because he was the first Afro-American president, but because of the policies that he put forward. But Obama himself did not succeed in eradicating the racist mentality among a number of Americans," Soutif said.
Works as recent as Hank Willis Thomas' "Amandla" (2013), showing a fist coming out of a door, are testament that today's African-American artists are grappling with the same themes as their predecessors.
With the U.S. presidential election campaign bringing to the fore issues of racism and the state of African-American communities, some visitors to the exhibit said Donald Trump has worsened race relations in America.
"A big portion of white Americans have never, in a sense digested the election of Mr. Obama. And Donald Trump is of this attitude, which is of denying the quality of these American citizens, of these people. It is absolutely distressing that Donald Trump has used such terrible simplistic terms in relation to African-Americans, who have brought such extraordinary wealth to the country, to which they have contributed enormously," an amateur historian of jazz Jean Neveu said, as he toured the exhibition.
A Texan graphic designer, Eric Duncan, bemoans Trump's candidacy and said his claim that race riots regularly occur in black communities is inaccurate and unjust.
Trump had made a pitch for the black vote last month, saying: "You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"
"It's hard to fathom that the American electorate will actually put him in the White House. You know, if he is elected president, I think it validates a lot of people's racist behaviour, racist attitudes," Duncan said.
The exhibition "The Color Line" runs until January 15th 2017.
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