Kavi Gupta is honored to sponsor AFRICOBRA: Nation Time as an official Collateral Event of La Biennale di Venezia 2019 (May 11th – November 24th 2019), in Venice, Italy.
This is a monumental achievement for this vital Black Arts collective, which was founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1968 by a collective of Black artists, whose interest in Transnational Black Aesthetics led them to create one of the most distinctive visual voices in 20th Century American art. The key characteristics to what we now consider the classic AFRICOBRA look—vibrant, “cool-ade” colors, bold text, shine and positive images of Black people —were essential to everyday life in the community from which this movement emerged. It is a movement with roots in the soil, streets, classrooms, studios, and living rooms of the South Side of Chicago—yet its influence has extended around the world. The appearance of AFRICOBRA at the Venice Biennale not only brings international attention to the work of these groundbreaking artists, but shines an important spotlight on their legacies as representatives of the artistic heritage of our city.
AFRICOBRA: Nation Time at La Biennale di Venezia 2019 also marks a proud moment in the history of Kavi Gupta Gallery. Our first exhibition of the work of AFRICOBRA co-founder Gerald Williams premiered in 2017. Since the early days of planning that exhibition, we have been working directly with Gerald and the other surviving AFRICOBRA co-founders to assemble a historic library of ephemera documenting the first 50 years of AFRICOBRA’s existence. These archives include rare materials tracking AFRICOBRA members’ participation in FESTAC ’77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977, as well as Williams’ time spend working in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1977 to 1999, and tracing the aesthetic evolution of Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell as they lived and worked in Washington, D.C., New York City, and beyond.
In 2018, Williams curated AFRICOBRA 50, a landmark exhibition at our Elizabeth Street gallery in Chicago’s West Loop celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of the AFRICOBRA collective. AFRICOBRA 50 juxtaposed historic and newer works by all of the AFRICOBRA co-founders alongside works by contemporary artists inspired by their aesthetic vision.
The five AFRICOBRA founders—Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams—understood the potential power visual art has to communicate deep meaning on multiple layers. They had the sophistication to mobilize the organic elements of their everyday visual environment into something capable of affecting the hearts, minds, and spirits of contemporary people. Their collective impact, in addition to Napoleon Jones-Henderson and Nelson Stevens both of whom joined the group in 1969 on the visual arts scene helped establish the visual voice of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Their further impact—as artists, educators, and community leaders—has brought the members of AFRICOBRA to the forefront of contemporary conversations about the history, legacy, and future of Black Art in America and the world.
AFRICOBRA: Nation Time is the next chapter of AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People, which premiered at MOCA North Miami during Art Basel Miami 2018, AFRICOBRA: Nation Time will focus entirely on the historic aspects of this vital, Chicago-born Black Arts collective. More than 40 works will be on view by Jeff Donaldson, Gerald Williams, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, and Nelson Stevens. Historic documentation, archival photographs and other ephemera will be showcased throughout the exhibition offering a unique and comprehensive narrative of AFRICOBRA’s birth and evolution on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1960s and early 1970s and its reverberating effect on the art scenes of Washington, DC, New York City, and Lagos, Nigeria.
This groundbreaking exhibition will be mounted within the historic, picturesque Venetian Gothic palazzo of Ca’ Faccanon, offering more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space on two floors, adorned with its original Venetian plaster and Murano chandleries. Its perfectly central location is only meters away from the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s square.
AFRICOBRA: Nation Time at Biennale Arte 2019 is the first time the work of this vital, definitive, and historic Black Arts collective has been given the opportunity to be celebrated by global audiences on this scale. AFRICOBRA: Nation Time is an exhibition of historic importance for the Black Arts Movement in the United States and all international audiences who are curious to discover more about the ways in which the aesthetic of African American artists relates to politics, culture and identity. Capturing the sentiment of their time with a visual language of vivid colors, rhythm, compositional arrangement and shine, the artists in AFRICOBRA: Nation Time reflect how a marginalized group found a way to empower themselves in a society that consistently denied them their power.