‘Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement’ at Detroit Institute of Arts


As part of a city-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents “Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement,” July 23–Oct. 22, 2017. The exhibition is free with museum admission, which is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.


The exhibition is organized by the DIA and is in collaboration with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which organized the complementary exhibition, “Say It Loud: Art, History, Rebellion.” Both are part of a community-wide reflection on the Detroit rebellion of 1967 that involves about 100 local institutions led by the Detroit Historical Museum. “Art of Rebellion” has been generously supported by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Whitney Fund. 


“Art of Rebellion” features 34 paintings, sculptures and photographs mostly by African American artists working both collectively and independently in the 1960s and 70s. Artists in the collectives created art for African American audiences that asserted black identity and racial justice and, situated within the story of these collectives, is the Detroit rebellion of 1967. The exhibition also includes works by artists who were not part of a collective and artists working in later decades who were inspired by art from the Civil Rights Movement. A scholarly catalog accompanies the exhibition.


“The commemoration of the 1967 Detroit rebellion provides an opportunity to call attention to the talented and often overlooked artists who were reacting to the struggle for social, political and racial justice during the 1960s and 70s,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “The DIA’s collaboration with the Wright Museum lays a foundation from which we are building a strategic and lasting working relationship that will help bring our community closer together.”


In conjunction with the exhibition, on July 29 beginning at 1 p.m. and running into the evening, the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre presents a marathon screening of Detroit Home Movies, a year-long project to gather home movies from around 1967 that depict everyday life in Detroit’s diverse communities. The films will run chronologically in 45 minute chapters, with a 12-minute break between each chapter, and families have been invited to talk about their movies while they run. The Crystal Gallery Café will remain open throughout the marathon.


The home movie project is a partnership of the DIA, Detroit Free Press, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, Detroit Historical Society and Bridge magazine.


Most of the exhibition focuses on the art of five artist collectives:

Spiral Active 1963–65 in New York and formed by Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff to advance the Civil Rights Movement’s platform of social change. Charles Alston’s “Black and White #7” (1961), “Untitled (Alabama)” by Norman Lewis (1967) and Romare Bearden’s photo projection on paper “Conjure Woman” (1964) are shown in this section.


Kamoinge Workshop Founded in 1963 in Harlem by photographers Louis Draper, Ray Francis, Herbert Randall, Albert Fenner and Roy DeCarava. Kamoinge is still active in addressing the underrepresentation of black photographers in the art world and in conveying the black experience. Ming Smith’s “James Baldwin in Setting Sun over Harlem, Harlem, New York, 1979” (1979/91), “Fadiouith, Senegal” by Anthony Barboza, (1972) and Adger W. Cowans’ “Malcolm X Speaks at a Rally in Harlem (at 115th St. & Lexington Ave.), New York, September 7, 1963” (1963) are among the photographs in this section.


Weusi Based in Harlem, founded in 1965 by Ademola Olugebefola and Otto Neals. An ongoing collective dedicated to eradicating negative misrepresentations of black culture in the media and to teaching African Americans about their heritage. This section includes Che Baraka’s “Blood of My Blood” (1973), “Curiosity” by Otto Neals (1969) and “Shango” by Ademola Olugebefola (1969).


Black Arts Movement (BAM) Active in New York 1965–76 and founded by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka in response to Malcolm X’s death. These artists emphasized racial pride and African heritage in art that reflects black culture and experiences. BAM members were politically militant and often racial separatist. This section features “Southern Pasture” by Benny Andrews (1963), “The Fire Next Time” by Vincent Smith (1968) and Hale Woodruff’s “Ancestral Memory” (1966).


AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) Established in Chicago in 1968 by Jeffrey Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams. These artists created powerful art that was understandable, relevant and accessible. They regarded art making as a revolutionary act and developed Afrocentric aesthetic principles and concepts that reflected the style, colors, cool attitude and rhythm associated with African American culture. Among these works are “Three Queens” by Wadsworth Jarrell (1971), “Unite” by Barbara Jones-Hogu (1971) and Jeff Donaldson’s “Victory in the Valley of Eshu (1971).


“Art of Rebellion” also includes work by artists who did not belong to a collective but who were also reacting to civil rights and social justice issues. Some examples are “Black Attack” by Allie McGhee (1967), which is about Detroit’s 1967 rebellion and “Selma to Montgomery, Alabama March, Cover of May, 1965 Issue of Ebony Magazine” by photographer Moneta Sleet Jr., which shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading protesters on the famous march in the title of the work.


Many African American artists working in the 1980s to the present were inspired by artists in the collectives. Among them are Rita Dickerson, whose 2017 painting “1967: Death in the Algiers Motel and Beyond” is about the 1967 Detroit rebellion; Elizabeth Catlett’s “Homage to Black Women Poets” (1984) and David Hammons “African American Flag” (1990).


Image: “1967: Death in the Algiers Motel and Beyond,” 2017, Rita Dickerson, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist


Museum Hours and Admission

9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesdays–Thursdays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. General admission (excludes ticketed exhibitions) is free for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents and DIA members. For all others, $14 for adults, $9 for seniors ages 62+, $8 for college students, $6 for ages 6–17. For membership information, call 313-833-7971.




The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, houses more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera’s world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA’s collection is known for its quality, range and depth. The DIA’s mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art individually and with each other.

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