not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

Romare Bearden (1911-1988)
In the Garden, from the “American Portfolio," 1979 (published 1980)

In this lush summertime scene, a barefoot woman wearing a pink gingham dress stands in her garden, holding a basket or a bowl of flowers. She is surrounded by blossoming foliage, enclosed by a brick wall over the top of which we glimpse a house, its two black windows like eyes peering into this private enclave. She could be any proud Southern gardener, but the deliberate gesture she makes—the two fingers of her right hand raised skyward—suggests other possibilities. Bearden spoke of her as a kind of Eve in the Garden of Eden, but imagined here in the guise of a “conjur” woman, a healer. He saw such healers as a link across time, describing how their knowledge “had been passed on through generations from an African past.”

In his later sixties at the time he made this print, Bearden has abandoned his earlier use of photomontage in favor of cutting out and assembling larger, flat planes of vibrant color into this evocation of a Southern landscape.

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