Black Arts at Oxy


In 1970-1971, “black art” in Los Angeles was still quite young.  Many of the young artists who were rising in their careers were only beginning to create their own works of art. Artists of this time, such as Noah Purifoy, Bettye Saar, and John Outterbridge, would later come to be recognized as pioneers and their work quintessential when discussing black art in not only Los Angeles, but the United States. One LA Times article tries to wrap its head around the concept of a black art exhibition in which the author poses the question: is it merely grouping together artists “whose sole affinity is the color of their skin?”. The reality for many of the young black artists during this time was that their work would be displayed in galleries that were established specifically for fostering artists of color (like the Brockman Gallery) or labeled as “black art” when shown in the larger settings. 

Aside from being segregated in the gallery setting, there was also a discussion going on about the distinction between East and West coast when it comes to black art. The same article from above complains that “westerners” were omitted from the show, most likely because the organizers, who were primarily from the East Coast, did not know them. Black artist recognition was therefore largely regional, and at this period did not extend to both coasts.

Not only within the geography of the United States was there a struggle over recognition across state lines, but also a controversy as to whether or not the galleries would recognize black art as Western art when it is inspired from the individuals’ heritage from a different culture. In the fall of 1971, LACMA installed an exhibit known as “Black Africa,” which housed art all influenced and derived from Africa and how it had inspired so much art of the Western world. Los Angeles Times writer, William Wilson said about the exhibit:
"Two small exhibition spaces are crowded with 127 top examples of the art of Africa, mainly from the central portion. That is the area mined by slave traders who brought black captives here. The artistic heritage that was stolen from them is incalculable... it is chilling to think what an insipid business modernistic art might have been without the inspiration to formal dignity and spiritual passion it derived from the art of Black Africa." 
Despite the aim of the exhibition, an acquaintance of the article's author recounted a scene of a white mother and child still referring to the art as savage and inferior to the art of the West and white people, unconsciously displaying racism.

Perhaps spurred after the Watts Uprising in 1965 in which racial tension in America became loudly undeniable, newspaper articles from 1970 onwards show a awareness of the socioeconomic inequality and racial bigotry against black Americans. By the early 1970s, a decrease in industrial work in California caused a dramatic increase in African-American poverty.  Leimert Park, home to Brockman Gallery, and like many other Los Angeles neighborhoods was likewise affected, as a lack of jobs invited gang activity and the more wealthy residents moved to Baldwin Hills. By bringing common ideas and sentiments together about identity, heritage, and opportunity, the black art of this time started to become its own genre in addition to building community. Leimert Park and the Brockman Gallery is a prime example of art and small business helping to create neighborhood cohesiveness while pioneering black art in Los Angeles. 

As poverty and crime increased in Los Angeles, so did tension between poor communities and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In addition, there were boycotts aiming for a higher percentage of black employees in certain fields, requests for better funding and education in black schools. By March of 1971, black police officers used a program called the Oscar Joel Bryant Association, founded in 1968 in honor of the first black police officer to be killed in the line of duty, to work on closing the gap between LAPD officers and black communities. One ways they hoped to achieve this was by enlisting more black police officers. They also awarded scholarships to students in need. 1970 marked a renewal of black americans--from the art organizations to law enforcement--working to create a stronger and greater sense of united community.

It seems as though the most notable art by black Americans was not only seen as a “positive alternative to whatever else was going on in the ghetto”, but succinctly conveyed frustrations dealing with “the black man’s condition in America”. The LA Times writes on one poignant show exhibiting the artwork and with the various styles of Charles White, David Hammons, and Timothy Washington. The great contrast of styles was meant for the show to attract a mass audience while presenting the timeless subject of black anger towards prevalent white indifference and perpetuation of oppression. One individual, Jon Lockard, stated in a Los Angeles Sentinel article, “The black artist today has an obligation and a responsibility to be the clarion of black life…Artists have for long periods of time had to paint to the satisfaction of critics and galleries rather than the very community that they were from.”Black artists at the time were not solely making art for the sake of exhibitions and sales, but for their important narratives resulting in experimental and entirely fresh work.

Page created by Jocelyn Lo, Sophia McGinty, Vanessa Todd and Leila Wang in December 2016.


This page has paths:

This page has replies:

This page references: