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Expressions Of Jacob Lawrence: First Black Artistic Collection At MOMA

Jacob Lawrence, “The Opener”, silkscreen print on Bainbridge Two Ply Rag paper, 28 1/2 x 38 1/2, 1997.

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was the first African American artist included in the permanent collection of MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, where he had a solo exhibition in 1944. He spent his formative years in Harlem, which was at the center of African-American cultural and intellectual revival. Lawrence started to integrate studies of history with his own experience, with depictions of civil rights confrontations and scenes of daily life.

In 1938, Lawrence completed a series of paintings about Toussaint L’Ouverture, a leader in the Haitian Revolution of 1800. Born a slave, Toussaint rose to become commander in chief of the revolutionary army. He coordinated the effort to draw up Haiti’s first democratic constitution, but before the Republic was firmly established, Toussaint was arrested by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops and taken to Paris, where he died in prison. In 1804 Haiti became the first black Western republic.

Lawrence reworked a number of his paintings into the print medium, distinct works he considered of equal importance. Amongst these are the silkscreen prints from his “Toussaint L’Ouverture” series. In this one, Henri Christoph, one of Toussaint’s aides, sets fire to La Cape rather than surrender to France. He had held the French off as long as possible.

The print here is from the collection of Alitash Kebede, legendary art dealer and supporter of artists from the African Diaspora, who was a friend of Lawrence. This series is presently circulating to museums In the United States as organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, a force in contemporary art since the early 50’s, which has presented more than five hundred exhibitions at museums throughout the United States and world.

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