Chrysler Museum Premieres first Museum Exhibition of Lawrence’s Nigeria Series
Norfolk, Virginia (September 13, 2022) – This fall, the Chrysler Museum of Art will present Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, the debut museum presentation of Jacob Lawrence’s Nigeria series of paintings and drawings—and the first in-depth look at the international artists who were members of the renowned Mbari Artists and Writers Club, many of whom Lawrence met during an extended stay in Nigeria in 1964. These artists, including Lawrence, contributed to Black Orpheus, a radical arts and culture journal published in Nigeria between 1957 and 1967. After opening at the Chrysler Museum from October 7, 2022, to January 8, 2023, the exhibition will travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art from February 10 to May 7, 2023, followed by the Toledo Museum of Art from June 3 to September 3, 2023.
“This exhibition explores an incredible moment in the global exchange of ideas, when people and countries around the world were fighting for independence from colonialism and when the civil rights movement was achieving success in the United States,” said Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the exhibition’s cocurator and the Chrysler Museum of Art’s former McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, now Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. “Traveling to Africa twice in the early 1960s, Jacob Lawrence connected to a vibrant crosscurrent of political and social ideas circulating there, as richly illustrated by the writing and art featured in Black Orpheus. Those artists, in turn, were adapting and integrating modernist theories of art with their local styles, customs, and life experiences. The results can be seen in Lawrence’s less-well known Nigeria series—and in the remarkable array of works in this show that represent the global south during a period of transition.”
The exhibition is organized into five sections to guide viewers from the singularity of Lawrence’s series, to the diversity of the Mbari Club artists, and then further into the artists working in the global south during this period.
- In the first section, named for Lawrence’s Nigeria series, viewers will see the artist’s representation of the country through depictions of its splendid markets, complex communities, and permeable spiritual practices. The section also includes archival images of Lawrence and his wife during their travels and original correspondence from Lawrence about his experiences.
- Artists of Osogbo presents the works of numerous Nigerian artists who are less well-known to American audiences, including Duro Ladipo, Twins Seven-Seven, Muraina Oyelami, Asiru Olatunde, Jacob Afolabi, and Adebisi Akanji, all of whom were featured in Mbari Club galleries and in Black Orpheus journals. These artists learned a range of artistic traditions—printmaking, batik textiles and painting—from older generations of both non-Western and Western artists and inspired younger generations.
- The section The Zaria Art Society focuses on a small group of Nigerian artists like Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and Bruce Onobrakpeya who met at the National College of Art & Technology and developed a philosophy called “natural synthesis,” where the artists incorporated local aesthetics and cultural traditions with Western-style art techniques to create a new modern art form. Their work also provided illustrations for short stories featured in Black Orpheus.
The exhibition’s final two sections draw out artistic themes being explored by artists elsewhere on the African continent—and in other parts of the world.
- Across the African Continent features original art from the Black Orpheus journals, which were the nucleus for features and exhibition reviews about modernist artists in the region and around the world. The journals featured incredible works of art created by Mbari Club members and others, either for the cover or inside, including the Kenyan artist Hezbon Owiti, Mozambican artist and poet Malangatana Ngwenya, Ghanaian artist Vincent Kofi, El-Salahi and Ahmed Shibrain, two members of the Sudanese Khartoum School, and the Ethiopian artist Skunder Boghossian. These artists—often trained in European art styles—featured iconography and stories from their own cultures as new modes of artistic expression.
- Beyond the African Continent includes artists working primarily in the global south, whose creations were the result of similar forms of artistic—and political—discovery as their counterparts in Africa, reinforcing the importance of Black Orpheus and the Mbari Artists and Writers Club in the broader exchange of ideas. Presented are works from artists such as Avandrish Chandra from India, Genaro de Carvalho and Agnaldo Manoel dos Santos from Brazil, and William H. Johnson from the United States, highlighting the commonalities of people around the world in the fight for freedom.
“The themes of self-representation, freedom, and independence have been motivating for artists for generations, and they are at the heart of this exhibition, from Jacob Lawrence’s Nigeria series, to the diverse artists of the Mbari Artists and Writers Club,” said Erik Neil, the Macon and Joan Brock Director of the Chrysler Museum of Art. “This exhibition demonstrates that these artists and their works continue to resonate globally today. We are thrilled to co-organize and present this ambitious exhibition, giving Lawrence’s series its long-overdue museum presentation and putting this astounding array of African and other artists in the spotlight.”
JACOB LAWRENCE IN NIGERIA
Jacob Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, first traveled to Africa in 1962, starting in Nigeria, to present an exhibition of work from several of his series: Migration, Under the Black Belt, and War. His plan was to introduce Africans to moments in African American history that he hoped would resonate with them, featuring themes of joy and sorrow, oppression and triumph. While there, he met with artists affiliated with the legendary Mbari Artists and Writers Club, from visual artists like Bruce Onobrakpeya and Vincent Kofi, to writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, who were themselves exploring and critiquing Western art traditions and publishing their work in the groundbreaking journal Black Orpheus.
In 1964, the Lawrences returned to Nigeria for a nine-month stay, again meeting with contemporaries—and during which time he finalized his more than 25 works Nigeria series. In this series, he explored themes of spirituality and community, often centered on the marketplace, a crucial gathering place in Nigerian culture. After returning to the United States, this series was presented at his New York dealer’s gallery in 1965—but has not been shown together in its entirety since then.
Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club is co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art and curated by Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum of Art’s former McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art who was named the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year, and by Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, Ph.D., the Curator of African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
A full-color catalogue published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition and include essays by the exhibition curators and preeminent scholars including Leslie King Hammond and Peter Probst as well as a new generation of scholars bringing forward new scholarship including Suheyla Takesh, Katrina Greven and Iheanyi Onwuegbucha.
Corporate partner Bank of America is the sponsor for Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club at the Chrysler Museum of Art. This exhibition was also made possible in part by major funding from National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Getty Foundation Paper Project, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the IFPDA Foundation. The Wyeth Foundation for American Art provided support for the exhibition catalog.
Members’ Exhibition Preview Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club
Thursday, October 6 from 6–9 p.m.
Museum Members Only
Celebrate the premiere of Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club. Museum members are invited to preview the first museum exhibition of Lawrence’s Nigeria series and the international artists featured in Black Orpheus. During the evening, exhibition co-curators Kimberli Gant, PhD, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba, PhD, Curator of African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, will give a talk in the Kaufman Theater. Enjoy spoken word, Umfundalai African Dance performances by Pink Pearls Dance Company, the Norfolk State Jazz Combo, and West African-inspired refreshments.
Homeschool Studio: Abstraction and Rhythm
Thursday, October 20 from 1–3:30 p.m.
$5 for young artist (Museum member), $8 for young artist (non-member)
Homeschool Studio is a monthly art making class for ages 6–13. Each month will feature a different theme and artistic process. Young artists will spend time looking at works of art in the galleries, then explore a similar process or theme in the Education Workshop. Discover several forms of abstraction in the exhibition Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club. Use rhythm, shape, and color to make two-dimensional works of art. Try out a range of mixed media to combine techniques and create compositions.
Teacher Workshop: Cultural Identity and Collaboration
Wednesday, November 2 from 5–7:30 p.m.
Free with registration.
Explore the expansive exhibition, Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, to learn about artists connecting internationally through collaboration and authorship.
Discuss ways cultural identity appears in artmaking and in the classroom and explore strategies to encourage collaboration. Create a simple zine and identify ways to include publishing or bookmaking in your teaching setting.Professional Development certificate available upon session completion.
Tickle My Ears: Baby Goes to Market
Thursday, November 3 at 10:30 a.m.
Free, Recommended for ages 2–5.
This month, we will read Baby Goes to Market and take a look at a work of art in Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club. In this book by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, Baby visits a Nigerian market with his mama and gets his share of delicious snacks. After the story reading, create an artwork inspired by the exhibition.
Black Prometheus Marketplace at Norfolk State
Thursday, November 10 from 6p.m.–10 p.m.
Norfolk State University, 700 Park Ave, Norfolk, VA
For ticketing information, please visit nsu.edu.
The Chrysler Museum has partnered with NSU to bring the tradition of Mbari to Hampton Roads. The evening will include performances, an exhibition of prints made by artists inspired/influenced by Jacob Lawrence, an art-making activity, and vendors selling African goods and food. This event is a ticketed event. This event is a ticketed event at Norfolk State University, 700 Park Ave, Norfolk, VA.
Friday, November 11 from 10:30-11:30am
Individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and their care partners are invited to experience a conversation in *Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club*. We will explore 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.
Art Matters is a free program presented in partnership with the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. To register, please call 800-272-3900.
Tickle My Ears
Thursday, December 1 at 10:30 a.m.
Free, Recommended for ages 2–5.
What would you do if you saw a giant chicken wandering into your kitchen late at night? Anyaugo decides to follow it. Join her on the adventure and learn fascinating things about the culture of West Africa along the way. After the story, take a look at artwork in the exhibition *Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club* and make your own craft!
For the safety of everyone in our community, all visitors age 3 and up are required to wear a face mask in the Museum and Glass Studio, regardless of vaccination status. We ask that you please wear a mask covering the nose and mouth at all times during your visit.
African Journeys: ‘Positive SHOCK’ and the African American Artist
Saturday, December 3 from 3–4 p.m.
$5 for members, $10 for non-members, and free for students with a valid ID
Jacob Lawrence’s travels inspired his Nigeria series and led to his connection with the Mbari Artist and Writers Club and their publication Black Orpheus. Join Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, PhD, for an engaging look at the impact travel to the African continent had on African American artists. This talk expands upon her essay from the Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club catalog, and contributes additional insight into artists’ travels and influences.
Dr. King-Hammond is an American artist, curator, and art historian. She is the Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she is also Graduate Dean Emeritus. She earned a BFA degree from the City University of New York (CUNY), Queens College, and a PhD in Art History from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. King-Hammond was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Studio Museum in Harlem (NYC) in 2002, an artist grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001, an Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellowship in 2008, and the Alain Locke International Prize in 2010.
Mbari Night at the Chrysler
Wednesday, December 7 from 6–9 p.m.
$35 for Museum members, $45 for non-members
Experience the tradition of Mbari as the Chrysler turns into an interactive open-air marketplace. Immerse yourself in West African traditions through music, dance, fashion, cuisine, and a live performance of Egungun Masquerade.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
For additional information, please contact:
Kat Harding / Sascha Freudenheim
440-759-8148 / 917-544-6057
Kat@paveconsult.com / email@example.com