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

Romare Bearden (1911-1988)
The Family, 1975

In a modest rural home, three figures—or is it four?—prepare a humble meal around a table, while in the background at left, a woman grooms herself under an exposed lightbulb. The family, their house, even the landscape glimpsed out a window, are all composed of cut-up bits of photographs and painted paper, creating a patchwork vision of this working-class family. Romare Bearden, one of the most significant American artists of the 20th century, returned to such images of domesticity throughout his career in order to celebrate the everyday lives of African Americans.

Bearden’s artistic career spanned a long arc that stretched from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s to the Civil Rights era and beyond. Although he began as a painter, by the 1960s he had embraced collage, arranging fragments of pictures from magazines and newspapers, pieces of colored paper, fabric and other scraps into scenes portraying contemporary Black life.

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