Black Power in Art

Emerson Gallery, Arlington St. Church (355 Boylston St.) through Dec. 22

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;

Thy name is writ on Glory's scroll

In characters of fire.

High 'mid the clouds of Fame's bright sky

Thy banner's blazoned folds now fly,


And truth shall lift them higher. --Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

In white America the black artist has worked largely in a vacuum. He has been able to say, with the protagonist of Ellison's celebrated novel, "I am an invisible man...simply because people refuse to see me." But recently he has begun to be seen, really seen. In October, the City University of New York mounted a stunning and well-attended exhibition of 55 Negro artists spanning a century and a half. This month, a Manhattan gallery has offered a one-man show of 49 paintings by the late Henry O. Tanner--who was, however, able to find freedom and recognition only abroad.

In Boston, the work of members of the four-year-old Boston Negro Artists' Association has lately been exhibited in Roxbury, the Old South Church, and elsewhere. Currently on view is a large one-man show entitled "Black Power Revolution in Art," which consists of nearly a hundred works by Dana C. Chandler, Jr., one of our area's most forceful artistic spirits--and, at twenty-six, one of its youngest.

Chandler, an ardent Black Power advocate, is a man with fire in his belly; but he chooses to channel it into art rather than arson. He says art can be as effective as destruction in bringing about social change, thereby allying himself with such potent practitioners as Orozco, Kollwitz, Grosz, and Shahn.

He is out to show how he feels "about being black in a racist society," and to preserve "a picture of our struggle for freedom." Much of his work portrays aspects of violence, including riots at home and the Vietnam war abroad. One enormous diptych called "Vietnam/Genocide/America" points up the Negro's ironically similar position in both. In the background of "The Manipulators" (placed in the window facing the street) we see President Johnson and Premier Ky with their arms around each other; and Johnson has to himself one painting titled simply "Killer." Among other paintings of protest are "Grove Hall Nightmare," "Roxbury Rebellion," and "Riot Victim."

Thou hast the right to noble pride,

Whose spotless robes were purified

By blood's severe baptism.   [Dunbar]

Chandler is aware of history too. A Crucifixion scene is titled "For What!?" "Forced Integration," showing a white man raping a Negro woman, is meant to recall the origin of our lighter skinned colored Americans, and an eerie picture of a spiky branch-qua-hand is called "Hanging Tree." An eight-foot-high painting of a bearded Negro holding up a Black Power sign bears the title "Moses Brings the Word to His People."

The painter looks to the future, also. The most striking thing about "Black Prediction" is the burning fury emanating from the eyes of its subjects. Says Chandler, "The Black Revolution is going to get worse before it gets better. Many blacks will die--perhaps myself among them." He believes blacks must be left to settle most of their own problems and that it's the whites who need help. Painting is his way of helping, for his art is "based on facts, on truth."