Black Art Matters Puts Artists of Color in the Spotlight

Austin Justice Coalition’s exhibition opens Feb. 17

Part of the way through our interview at Rio Rita, Stephanie Warren, the artist and creative director for the Austin Justice Coalition, casually tosses in that racially charged motto which guides and encapsulates the ideals of generations of upwardly mobile African-Americans: Twice as Good.

It’s a black national proverb that’s found its way out of the mouths of everyone from prime-time soap heroines to the 43rd First Lady of the United States. The essential message is that black folks in this great nation have to and have always had to be twice as good to get half as much or go half as far. The numbers back this up: After hundreds of years of slavery, failed reconstruction, Jim Crow, redlining, and other racist housing policies, the average black American family has amassed just $5.04 in wealth for every white American family’s $100.

This wealth gap affects essentially every facet of African-American life. The drive to create art is as mysteriously endowed and egalitarian as it gets; however, who gets the opportunity to really participate in the multi-billion dollar global art industry has everything to do with historical access to money and institutions of power. That’s something Warren and Chas Moore, the founder and executive director of the AJC, understand all too well.

“I know what being a black artist is like here in Austin,” Warren tells me. “All the artists in the show are doing it on their own already, but we still want to provide a space for them to have exposure. They all are doing the things they have to do. They have a website, they pursue opportunities on their own, but they don’t necessarily get all the best opportunities as a person of color. People don’t know about them. AJC has a very big, very diverse following, a very affluent following actually. This seemed like a good way to get some people who, while they are doing it, may still be struggling. And so here’s a place where we can get them all together, talking to people who have money.”

The show, which was curated by Warren and Miriam Conner, showcases an assortment of forms, chosen for their coherence of quality. Already on display during my visit were pieces from the artist Arielle Austin, an abstract painter whose last exhibition at the Carver Center in San Antonio showcased her series Soul Food, acrylics on canvas inspired by Southern recipes. Her Southern Fried Cabbage manages to evoke the texture and colors of the namesake vegetable. Those looking for more politically inspired art can check out the pieces by Jean-Pierre Verdijo, including a mixed-media collage which superimposes the iconic Baton Rouge protest photo of Ieshia Davis staring down militarized police in a flowing sundress over a collage of famous black women. In addition to the opportunity to purchase on of the pieces (all proceeds go directly to the artists), guests will also have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction, proceeds from which benefit upcoming programs at the AJC.

Black Art Matters Art Show/Fundraiser
Saturday, Feb. 17, 7pm
Rio Rita, 1203 Chicon

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Augusta Savage works to be exhibited in Saugerties

Augusta Savage’s sculpture of Jean Hennegan Baran.

The works of Augusta Savage, a sculptor and civil-rights activist who lived in Saugerties from 1945 until her death at 70 in 1962, will be displayed at the Kiersted House every Saturday in honor of Black History Month starting this Saturday, February 17.

The exhibit, “Lift Every Voice,” derives its name from James Weldon Johnson’s poem of the same name that inspired Savage’s contribution to the 1939 World’s Fair, a sculpture entitled “The Harp.” The piece was 16 feet tall and featured a dozen singing African-Americans of varying heights as strings on the instrument. Although that work was destroyed at the end of the fair, seven of her pieces will be featured at the exhibition until August of this year.

Before relocating to Saugerties from New York City, Savage led a trailblazing career. She is considered one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance. She lobbied the New Deal’s Works Projects Administration to find jobs for floundering young artists; subsequently, she was named the director of the WPA’s Harlem Community Center. In 1935, she was an organizer of the Harlem Arts Guild. Savage was the first black artist to join the National Association of Women Artists.


During her stay in Saugerties, Savage raised chickens and pigeons. She also worked at the laboratory of Herman Knaust raising mice. Knaust supplied her with clay, and Savage often sculpted the children that came to visit her animals. Savage taught local children, wrote children’s books and poetry, and often gave talks in the community, most notably a talk on the state of the Congo at the Atonement Lutheran Church in 1961.

Among her commissions was a bust of Poultney Bigelow, who lived in Malden-on-Hudson.

For its first iteration, the display will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. On subsequent Saturdays, Savage’s works can be viewed between 1 and 4 p.m. For information, contact Marjorie Block at 246-0784 or email

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Color me in: Artists recast American history

‘Luncheon on the Grass: Three Black Women’ by Mickalene Thomas during a preview for Figuring History exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Feb. 13, 2018. Credit: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut

Many folks are familiar with “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s classic 1851 painting of a pivotal episode in the American Revolutionary War.

But how many of us know Robert Colescott’s prickly parody of it, “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Pages from an American History Textbook,” which burlesques a whole history of racial stereotypes?

In his 1975 painting, Colescott (1925-2009) takes an iconic American art history moment and turns it on its head, replacing Revolutionary soldiers with a boatload of surprisingly jolly African-American men fishing, strumming a banjo, swigging whiskey. The late African-American artist both mocks an old Western art genre — history painting, which usually took the form of epic-scale oils depicting everything from classical/biblical mythology to battlefield victories and government pageantry — and makes his own uses of it.

That’s a central theme of “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas,” now up at Seattle Art Museum. The show reveals how three artists of color have repurposed pivotal Western artworks and retroactively written themselves into a narrative that has historically shut out anyone who wasn’t a straight white male. In the process, the artists re-examine the roles of racial and sexual minorities in American society. As you stroll through the galleries, you constantly come up against the question: Male gaze versus female gaze? Black gaze versus White?

Colescott’s bold, brightly colored works range from mischievous reworkings of classical paintings to original compositions focusing on particular historical figures. In the latter, he offers centuries-spanning, densely populated canvases in which a key figure – Christopher Columbus, say, or African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson – is almost overwhelmed by historical personages who came before and after him. This is history painting as a tumultuous correction of the traditional record.

George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975, Robert Colescott, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 in., Private collection, Saint Louis, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Jean Paul Torno.
George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975, Robert Colescott, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 in., Private collection, Saint Louis, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Jean Paul Torno.

Marshall (born in 1955) and Thomas (born in 1971)  pick up where he left off; they were on hand at SAM this week to comment on their work.

Marshall says his large-scale “Souvenir” paintings, combining acrylic, collage and glitter on unstretched canvas, serve as “a kind of requiem for the 1960s.” They depict winged Black visitants in cozy living rooms sometimes adorned with commemorative posters for John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The paintings are populated on their margins by figures “popularly identified with the goals and the dreams and the hopes of the Civil Rights era,” Marshall says.

When asked if these 1960s homages tap with unexpected urgency into our own “wacky” (my word) political times, he gives a wry laugh.

“Well, no,” he says. “What you have to keep in mind is that for Black people America has always had a kind of wacky, kind of crazy history. Nothing has ever been as it was claimed to be.”

To Marshall, it all boils down to a single thing that’s “being wrestled with … in the art world, in the movie world, in the political world, in the social world. Do Black people belong here? … They are here, but they are not citizens. That’s what the whole of the Civil Rights movement was all about. And in the art world, it was like: Do Black people belong in these museums?”

"What A Time, What A Time" by Kerry James Marshall in Seattle Art Museum's Figuring History exhibit. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut
“What A Time, What A Time” by Kerry James Marshall in Seattle Art Museum’s Figuring History exhibit. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut
A painting from the "Vignette" series by Kerry James Marshall. Marshall is one of three artists whose work is featured in SAM's new Figuring History exhibit. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut
A painting from the “Vignette” series by Kerry James Marshall. Marshall is one of three artists whose work is featured in SAM’s new Figuring History exhibit. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut

Marshall’s “Vignette” series, in which an ecstatic Black couple dances in whirling embrace in garden surroundings, captures an even more central essence of African-American life.

“You can think about the history of Black people in the United States, and you can become pretty depressed about it,” he says. “But you can’t really build your life around despair.”

His aim with the series was to picture “desire that’s not circumscribed so completely by a history of victimization. … What about those spaces in-between? Let’s see what that looks like.”

So he turned to 18th-century Rococo painting, especially a series titled “The Progress of Love” by French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, for inspiration.

“Do we experience that kind of joy too?” he asks. “And if we experience that kind of joy, can we show it?”

He shows it beautifully.

Thomas, 16 years younger than Marshall, has one work in the show that lines up neatly with its “history painting” focus. Titled “Resist,” it finds an echo of Trump-era turmoil in indelible images from the 1960s. “I didn’t think it was really necessary for me to use images of today,” she says, “because I feel like, as a viewer, we bring that forward.”

Most of her work isn’t so directly topical.

Detail shot of 'Luncheon on the Grass: Three Black Women' by Mickalene Thomas during a preview for Figuring History exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Feb. 13, 2018. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut
Detail shot of ‘Luncheon on the Grass: Three Black Women’ by Mickalene Thomas during a preview for Figuring History exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Feb. 13, 2018. Photo: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut

Her rhinestone-ornamented, collage-like paintings see African-American women in an alluring, empowering light. Her aim, she says, is “to allow them to exude their prowess and their energy. And hopefully, that’s what’, conveyed because it’s what I find attractive.”

Thomas is canny on how past male depictions of women influence her own lesbian sensibility.

“There’s evidence of a sort of maleness, I would say, in my work. … A lot of our experience of what we know is through the male gaze because that was so much of how we learned – through patriarchal understandings of how women see themselves. … So we’re unraveling that and relearning ourselves through our own gazes.”

Racquel: Come to Me, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, oil, glitter, and oil stick on wood panel, 108 x 84 x 2 in., Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas.
Racquel: Come to Me, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, oil, glitter, and oil stick on wood panel, 108 x 84 x 2 in., Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas.

Her cue, she says, comes from her sitters, including her romantic partner Racquel Chevremont.

“With the women I work with, there’s a collaboration. They have a lot of the control of how they want to be perceived – what they want to wear and which wigs. So, it’s a lot of conversation and role-play.”

With a grin she adds, “Sometimes I’m just there to experience it.”

That experience, in her hands, takes dazzling, liberating form.

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‘Black Panther’ will set box-office records. But could it change the movie business?

“Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES — “Black Panther,” Marvel’s African-oriented comic book adaptation, is shaping up to be the most successful movie at the box office for a film with a primarily black cast.

And it’s raising hopes for a new wave of broad-interest commercial films featuring black actors and stories.

“That a predominantly black-cast movie is getting this kind of traction finally shows what we all intuitively know: Make great art and people will respond,” said the actor-musician Common, who like many African Americans in entertainment has criticized the industry for ignoring the potential of black-oriented films.

But some in Hollywood also worry that “Black Panther” may prove more the exception than the rule. For all the enthusiasm over the movie, they say it has attributes — like Marvel’s massive production and marketing machine — that will make it easy to be dismissed as an outlier by executives contemplating future projects. It also comes after decades during which films from black artists struggled to gain traction in Hollywood.

Hollywood has long underinvested in African American movies. The movie industry makes assumptions about audiences that don’t match their behavior, say African American and white critics of the current system.

For many years, they note, studios executives believed that white moviegoers wouldn’t come out in droves to a black-driven film, a corollary to another long-standing trope: that black stars don’t fare well internationally. As it turns out, minorities now help drive the box-office of many blockbusters.

“I think no matter how much money this movie makes, it will be seen by a lot of people in [studio] staff meetings and greenlight committees as just a one-off,” said a prominent African American figure in the Hollywood development world, asking for anonymity so as not to be perceived as criticizing potential business partners. “And the question is: How many more ‘one-offs’ will we have before they realize it’s a pattern?”

Ryan Coogler’s take on the 1960s hero Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, has turned into a cultural event. Opening Friday, the movie comes from Disney and its Marvel subsidiary, two of the most potent commercial forces operating in Hollywood.

It is projected by tracking services to gross $175 million at the domestic box office over the four-day holiday weekend and even has a chance to top $166 million for the Friday-Sunday period — which would put it in the top 10 openings of all time. Over coming weeks, the action-adventure is expected to sail past $350 million domestically and could well surpass $400 million. Marvel gave Coogler a budget pegged by trade reports at $200 million, nearly unheard of for a black director.

The social context is ripe for “Black Panther” to be a breakout. Rhea Combs, the curator of film and photography at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, said: “‘Black Panther’ comes in the midst of Black Lives Matter and all the other important social movements that are happening now. It makes for a very powerful combination.”

Black stories are hardly ever made at top production and marketing budget levels, and thus often perform at more midrange levels. They include the movies of Tyler Perry, which reliably gross between $50 million and $70 million.

One of the highest-grossing films to date with a largely black cast, 1988’s “Coming to America,” ranks at No. 291 on the all-time U.S. list when adjusting for inflation, with $274 million. Even that was an anomaly. The 30 years since have brought very little else of its kind, as the studios constructed most movies with primarily black casts as lower-budget niche offerings.

But “Black Panther” breaks that pattern. “What’s unprecedented is here we have a film with a black lead and majority black cast that’s also a tentpole film,” said Darnell Hunt, a professor and director of social science at UCLA who specializes in issues of Hollywood and race, using the term for a modern, expensive, effects movie.

“Black Panther” has been tracking extraordinarily well with African Americans. According to a survey conducted two weeks ago by the data analytics firm YouGov, 74 percent of African Americans said they planned to see the movie on some platform in coming months. (By contrast, the highest percentage of African Americans who said they’d seen any of the other 17 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was 44 percent, for 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.”)

But it’s white audiences where the numbers really pop: 49 percent of white respondents said they planned to watch “Black Panther” on some platform. That’s actually a higher proportion than has seen any other Marvel movie. The next closest was the three-part Iron Man franchise, which drew 46 percent of respondents.

“What you see here are numbers across the board with all races,” said Larry Shannon-Missal, the head of data services for YouGov in the United States. “Black people will turn out in a very significant way, but so will white moviegoers.”

UCLA’s Hunt drew an analogy: to “The Cosby Show.” “You knew black people were going to watch it,” he said. “But what made that show a hit was that a lot of white people watched it.”

For a lot of movies, that may not be even necessary. Minority audiences are actually helping propel box-office success for the biggest blockbusters. According to Hunt, who heads up an annual study of diversity in Hollywood, minority groups constituted more than 50 percent of U.S. ticket buyers on five of the top 10 highest-grossing global releases in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available. It was the first time that threshold had been reached. His study of 2016’s box office, due at the end of the month, could see that number rise, he said.

Other parts of the entertainment industry have long understood — economically if not ethically — the importance of diverse artists, says Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans and the current president of the National Urban League. “From Motown to Prince to hip-hop, the music business understands black artists have a lot of broad appeal beyond the black community,” Morial said. “So why hasn’t Hollywood understood that?”

Until recently, Hollywood studios have indeed been far more reluctant to make movies that went beyond a single black star or that dealt with black-specific stories — even though movies with African American leads such as Will Smith and Eddie Murphy have been major box-office champions for years.

Only in the past several years have studios begun producing movies with predominantly black casts that deal with such themes. (Some of them, including “Get Out” and “Straight Outta Compton,” each topped $150 million domestic on budgets far smaller than that.)

For a long time, Hollywood refused to believe that white audiences would attend minority movies — or even bothered to test the theory. A group of largely white male executives rarely greenlit stories about black America.

On the rare occasions those stories were made, they tended to find profitability — John Singleton’s 1991 inner-city drama “Boyz N The Hood” and the films of Spike Lee, particularly 1992’s “Malcolm X,” both of which came from major studios and topped $75 million in domestic box office when adjusting for inflation. But that success happened very infrequently and, observers say, with little regard for its meaning.

Still, some activists privately wonder why it took so long for Marvel to finally have a black superhero lead, particularly when many other lesser-known superhero characters were mined in the interim. Disney began actively developing “Black Panther” in 2009, driven by Nate Moore, Marvel’s key executive who is also African American. Disney declined to make anyone involved in the movie available to comment.

Until Disney gave African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay $100 million to direct next month’s “A Wrinkle In Time,” no black woman had ever been handed a budget that high.

The activists also wonder if the effect of “Black Panther,” inside and outside Hollywood, might be exaggerated.

“This movie is a fantasy,” said Todd Boyd, a professor of cinema and media studies at USC who specializes in race and popular culture. Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” he noted, raised awareness for a political movement and even catalyzed others to carry the mantle. “I don’t think this will change anything,” he said. “Hollywood has never put its muscle behind telling the story of the real Black Panthers, so why would a fictional movie about a fictional place make them do things differently?”

Transforming “Black Panther” into a springboard for more representation in executive suites and on film slates won’t be easy, other diversity advocates acknowledge. But they say the fact so many are embracing an African-centric story could make the strongest case for more black-oriented movies.

According to the YouGov study, 15 percent of Americans who have never seen a Marvel movie say they will break that pattern for “Black Panther,” suggesting the movie is broadening audiences.

“The best part of this film’s success is it will show a black movie can be not just important culturally,” said the Urban League’s Morial, “but a big winner economically.”


‘Black Panther’ is a revelation but also a reminder of what we’ve been missing

For Ryan Coogler, ‘Black Panther’ is about the big picture

How ‘Black Panther’ could change representation in a part of Hollywood we often ignore

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‘Pretty extraordinary’: The Australian in charge of the Obama portraits

In between Barack Obama saying the portrait of him was “pretty sharp” and Michelle Obama praising the artist who painted her as “so fly”, there was a flash of platinum blonde hair and the sound of a warm Australian accent on the stage of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The unveiling of the presidential portraits in Washington this week was not only a momentous milestone for artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, who couldn’t hold back tears as they spoke of their difficult roads to becoming the first African-American artists to paint the official portraits.

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The unveiling of two Obama portraits

The official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

For Kim Sajet, an Australian and the gallery’s director, it was also a moment of a lifetime.

“[It] was pretty extraordinary,” she told Fairfax Media the next day. “But I’ve had some pretty extraordinary moments since I’ve been in this job.”

The first, perhaps, was being tapped to lead the hallowed institution. As a non-American art historian born in Nigeria to Dutch parents, who moved to Australia to escape WWII, Sajet was more shocked than most people.

She has since listened to Maya Angelou sing gospel at a portrait unveiling two weeks before the legendary civil rights activist died. She has fulfilled Madeleine Albright’s childhood dream by having Robert Redford present the Portrait of a Nation prize to her. She has navigated the explosion of #blacklivesmatter and #MeToo and what it means for the gallery’s remit: to tell the American story by portraying its people.

Perhaps the latter is why this week’s buzz was particularly unusual.

The New York Times’ art critic Holland Cotter noted that presidential portrait unveilings – usually dull, ceremonial affairs – rarely attract the kind of frisson this one did. The bold choice of artists no doubt played a role.

Wiley, known for fantastical portrayals of everyday black people, painted Obama pensive in front of lush background of greenery and flowers representing Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya. Little-known Baltimore artist Sherald, who usually gives her subjects grey skin to nullify the role of colour in race, painted Mrs Obama in a mountainous, almost tribal dress.

People were excited, confused, angry. Fox News claimed Wiley had secretly painted sperm into a “controversial” portrait of Obama. Social media lit up with complaints that Mrs Obama’s portrait looked little like her.

It was a painting of “shocking mystery,” The New Yorker‘s Doreen St. Félix said, because Sherald somehow conjured a vision of Mrs Obama that we hadn’t seen before: dreamy, shadowlike and, yes, with unusual resemblance.  

“And yet this is how the subject would like posterity – young black girls especially, she said in a speech – to see her, through Sherald’s vision: as a herald of success.”

Sajet suspects there was something more behind the buzz.

“It suddenly seems like portraiture is hot again,” she said. “I truly believe that portraiture can change the world … and it feels like people are finally saying ‘Oh my god, yes, it’s about people, about sharing emotion, about humanity coming together to celebrate success’.”

Sajet ran the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery and Monash Gallery of Art before moving to the US 21 years ago for what was supposed to be a short stay so her husband could do a PhD.

She believes her global perspective has been an asset at the Smithsonian, driving an edgy approach focusing on those absent from the gallery’s walls.

“It is about questioning who got to be on the walls and why,” she said. “In this country, portraiture favoured those who could vote – white men who owned land. There are far fewer women, certainly when it comes to racial diversity we have work to do.”

Not one for playing it safe, Sajet has commissioned dance performances, a six-acre mural and waded through controversies like the portrait of Bill Clinton, which included a secret reference to Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. This week’s unveiling by two unconventional artists was no safer. 

“We were holding our breaths, waiting to see what we were going to get,” she said. “But I trusted them implicitly and they came through in the end.”

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Black artists with N.S. roots want their Métis ancestry recognized

Canada’s former parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke knows the latest project he’s working on might make waves.

He, along with several other artists, is recording a new 18-song album that discusses the struggles of some Atlantic Canadians to get recognition of both their black and Indigenous ancestry.

“If anybody out there gets upset, good, get upset,” Clarke said in an interview. “Don’t have a heart attack but be upset as much as you like because I don’t think that I have to accept my identity according to you, according to somebody else. I’m tired of that, too old for that.”

Making a statement through music

Clarke, originally from Three Mile Plains, N.S., can trace his roots on his mother’s side back seven generations to the Black Refugees who arrived in Nova Scotia after the War of 1812. But his family also has Mi’kmaw heritage.

The musical group calls itself the Afro-Métis Nation and the album will be titled the Afro-Métis Constitution.

“We are literally making a statement through music about our existence as a people with a particular heritage, which is part Indigenous as well, of course, as African,” Clarke said.

Shelley Hamilton, Shari Clarke, Sugar Plum Croxen, Chris White, George Elliott Clarke

Afro-Métis Nation rehearses a song on an album they are recording this week in Halifax. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

“Through most of our existence as a people here in Nova Scotia, in Canada, in Atlantic Canada … we’ve never had any trouble being recognized as being black people — we are proud to be black people.

“The part of our identity that is almost never recognized, or never accepted, is our Indigeneity and that bothers me because I think that my wholeness as a person needs to be recognized.”

This week in Halifax, Clarke, along with vocalists including world-renowned opera singer Portia White’s nephew Chris White, Shelley Hamilton, Russ Kelley, Sugar Plum Croxen and Shari Clarke, are in the studio recording the album of song and poetry.

Shelley Hamilton

Toronto-based singer and actor Shelley Hamilton is one of the artists singing on Afro-Métis Nation’s new album. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The group will present the songs in a live invitation-only concert in Halifax on Sunday. The album will later be distributed to the public.

The album is infused with influences from various genres of music, including R&B, folk, Celtic, gospel, rock and traditional Negro spirituals. Other songs on the album pay tribute to Viola Desmond, Portia White and murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Different shades of skin

Hamilton’s song Skin explores the ongoing identity issues relating to different shades of skin in the black community, which often includes discussion about the advantages light-skinned blacks have over dark-skinned blacks.

“So many people, for years and for centuries, we’ve been locked into this identity related to a shade: ‘If we can see a shade then we can define who you are,'” the Toronto-based singer and actor said.

“And I wanted to write a song about how we have done that systematically over years and looked at ourselves related to our shade instead of looking at it as, there’s many stories to the shades of who we are.”

Hamilton, who is also originally from Nova Scotia, said there are many aspects of her Métis culture that she does not know about because those stories were not documented.

“I feel like I’m speaking for voices that never had a chance to be documented.”

Chris White

Musician Chris White is one of the black artists recording an album in Halifax. The group calls itself Afro-Métis Nation. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In another song on the album, Chris White pays tribute to his grandfather, Rev. Capt. William A. White, in a song about his ancestor’s life. 

William White, the son of American slaves, became the first black commissioned officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force when he enlisted in the No. 2 Construction Battalion — a segregated unit for blacks — in 1917. During World War I, he was one of the few black officers in the Canadian Army, and its only black chaplain.

After the war, he became pastor of Halifax’s Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

No. 2 Construction Battalion

The only all-black unit in the Canadian military, in a photo dated November 1916. All the officers were white, except for Rev. Capt. William Andrew White, who was the unit chaplain and served as a captain. One of the songs on the album is about White. (Army Museum Halifax Citadel)

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Screenwriter Lena Waithe sheds light on role of black culture in entertainment industry

Almost all 1,000 seats in Varsity Hall were full when Emmy winning screenwriter Lena Waithe, the Black History Month keynote speaker, set foot in Wisconsin for the first time to speak on her unique rise within the television and media industry.

The recently engaged Waithe is known for her role as Denise on the Netflix television series “Master of None,” which earned her aforementioned Emmy. The award made Waithe the first Black woman to win the award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.

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The 33-year-old Chicago native identifies as queer, which is imperative in understanding the character she plays on the show. A scene from “The Thanksgiving Episode” gives viewers a visual when Denise comes out to her mother, played by the legendary Angela Bassett. Bassett’s character is completely distraught when Denise comes out as gay.

The scene is autobiographical as Waithe had a similar experience with her own coming out story. Being an African-American woman in this country comes with countless and substantial challenges, and viewers responded strongly to Denise and her experience.

Talking to student media prior to her presentation, Waithe said she believes the empathetic reaction to Denise was natural.

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“This is a human story. It’s not just a black story and it’s not just a lesbian story,” Waithe said.

People see themselves in it. Waithe believes art serves a purpose when its content pushes society to become more progressive.

Hollywood is now frantically searching to find the next big trend, and a renaissance of sorts is in full swing. Black artists like Waithe are having more of their work move to the mainstream, and executives are eager to capitalize. Waithe is gaining recognition for seizing the opportunity to present real experiences from the perspective of black communities.

Waithe recognizes that if creative output can generate black dollars, a black creator will earn the chance to tell a story. The only color the entertainment industry sees is green, she says, and creators of color now have a greater platform to make the product. Nonetheless, while black success in the industry is without question a sign of progress, it’s just a drop in the bucket.

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There are dozens of movies with a predominantly white cast, production and executive staff that come out annually. The number for visionaries of color isn’t even close.

“We get seven, we get four. It seems like an abundance because when we step up to the plate, we have to be Babe Ruth,” Waithe said.

The comparison wasn’t made for the Chance The Rapper “3” fitted hat Waithe had turned back around, alluding to the New York slugger’s jersey number, but for his legacy of always getting the job done with the bat in his hands.

Waithe’s thoughts turned to the political atmosphere and the role it plays in black culture.

UW student releases new shirt displaying Trump in a nooseFollowing the release of University of Wisconsin student Eneale Pickett’s last clothing line “No Justice” two weeks ago, Pickett debuted Read…

“I don’t care about the police; I care about the policed. There’s a difference,” Waithe said.

The policed are held to a higher standard. There’s no room for error as a person of color working to make a name for themselves in today’s environment.

Especially from the role of a producer or director, black creatives like Waithe carry the added pressure that she calls the “Barack Obama rule.” She elaborated that if black people in positions of power aren’t perfect, their mistakes become ammunition in support of why people of color don’t deserve those powerful roles.

Projects like Waithe’s “The Chi” are examples of black creators excelling in their craft. But if the quality of the content isn’t delivering at such a high level, the project might not reach fruition. Minority creators feel that they have to be phenomenal to break through the clutter or they won’t be given a chance to begin with.

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Waithe suggests that black artists won’t be equal until they can be mediocre. They haven’t been given the luxury of being able to try something and fail.

On the other hand, Waithe feels that white critics have a fear of seeming out-of-touch that makes it hard for them to give harsh assessments of shows and movies created by people of color. She proposes more people of color who understand the content of films and television shows should serve as critics and arbiters of taste and culture.

From the exclusive media chat to the presentation to those in attendance on campus, the elephant in the room was never discussed. No one mentioned the sexual assault allegations against Waithe’s colleague and co-worker, “Master of None” star and creator Aziz Anzari that emerged in a now-infamous Babe magazine article. That doesn’t mean they went without any allusion.

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“When people ask what I’m wearing, it’s a political statement,” Waithe told the crowd.

She cares about fashion and her choice of clothing makes up her uniform, a personal dress code that signals strength and encompasses a suggestion of masculinity. Every day Waithe leaves her home, she feels as if she’s going to war, making her wardrobe a collection of armor.

It did not escape notice when Waithe’s assistant threw back her scarf before the presentation to reveal just two words on the top of her black sweatshirt.

“Believe women.”

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Black comic creators discuss breaking down barriers to finally gain representation

Jason Scott Jones said he loved Spiderman and emulated him growing up. The superhero he admired was white, but Scott never questioned what was missing as a kid.

“I didn’t realize that I wasn’t seeing superheroes who looked like me, and it didn’t bother me at the time,” Scott told NBC News, “until I got to Milestone Media and learned that there was a whole community of black kids into comics, just like me. Besides black characters, there were also black illustrators, writers, editors and colorists behind the scenes who created my favorite comics that I had no idea existed.”

Jones, an illustrator and writer who previously worked at DC Comics, had to overcome barriers during a time when publishers believed that comics featuring black characters wouldn’t sell. DC and Marvel Comics are finally breaking that stigma — and the proof is in the numbers.

 Black Panther movie Marvel Studios

With the highly-anticipated “Black Panther” movie already breaking pre-sale records and expected to shatter box office records, some say movie producers will definitely be in a hurry to recruit talented people of color.

“Have your resumes ready because after this Friday, job openings for diverse creators will be opening everywhere,” Karama Horne joked during an NBC Universal Black Employee Network panel discussion Tuesday evening. Horne is a self-proclaimed “Black Nerd” for comics, anime, movies and tech.

According to a 2016 analysis by author and self-proclaimed comic book historian Tim Hanley, only 6 percent of credits at Marvel comics were black, while 70.1 percent of credits were white. The proportions are roughly the same at DC Comics and Image Comics, publisher of “The Walking Dead” and and “Witchblade”.


The superhero Black Panther was created by writer/editor Stan Lee and writer/artist Jack Kirby. There were only two white main characters in the film: Klaw and Everett.

“This angered people,” said Micheline Hess, creator and author of “Malice in Ovenland.” “But they don’t realize that that it’s been like that for us our entire lives.”

Hess said she and other comic fanatics did not have black superheroes to look up to when they were growing up because the only time comics included black characters were when they were depicted as villains.

“There is no problem with the villain being black, for example Killmonger in “Black Panther,” but they can’t only be the villain,” said Shawn Martinbrough, a critically-acclaimed creator and artist who worked on projects including “Black Panther” and “Captain America.”

 Black, Vol 1 Kwanza Osajyefo

Kwanza Osajyefo, creator and author of the comic book “Black”, explained to NBC News that it is important in media to carry all blackness and show diversity of political opinion by setting up an antagonist.

Jones echoed this sentiment.

“Villains have ideals too, but it’s the full picture of humanity we have to show. It includes the facet of who we are [imperfect] as human beings,” he said.

Khary Randolph, a renown black comic book artist and cover illustrator of “Black,” said that several people are involved in the multi-step process of creating a comic character. In some situations, the race of the character is pre-determined by the writers and editors, but other times, it is completely up to the illustrator to visualize what the character will look like, as long as it stays within description guidelines and matches the script.

“I take this opportunity to challenge writers and editors — by giving them a race or physical trait they weren’t expecting,” said Randolph. “We’ve been socially conditioned to illustrate characters as white, simply by default. We have to unlearn this.”

We’ve been socially conditioned to illustrate characters as white, simply by default. We have to unlearn this.” – Khary Randolph

We’ve been socially conditioned to illustrate characters as white, simply by default. We have to unlearn this.” – Khary Randolph

Since creators in the comic industry are not always people of color, readers may find it controversial when non-ethnic writers and illustrators create ethnic characters.

Martinbrough believes cultural awareness is important when it comes to comic writing.

“If a white guy wants to tell a story about a black character, I applaud them,” he said. “The audience’s response will tell it all if someone messes up.”

Osaiyefo agreed.

“Do your research as a writer and the ethnicity of the writer or illustrator matters less if you’ve done the work, because it will reflect in your characters,” he said. “However, don’t just throw in black characters to create inclusion, that’s painting by numbers. Do it when you’re ready.”

With social media and the explosive growth of digital platforms, some comic artists claim that it’s easier than ever to gain exposure and capture an audience through one’s work. “Movement to digital is a good thing for comics because one can showcase his or her work and receive immediate feedback,” Jamal Igle, creator of “Molly Danger” and interior illustrator of “Black,” told NBC News.


Igle explained that comics outside of mainstream DC and Marvel often have a hard time reaching mainstream audiences.

“If ‘Black Panther’ didn’t have Marvel as a resource attached to it, it wouldn’t have been this big,” Igle said. “’Black Panther’s’ success is a good thing for all diverse comic artists. It was a defining moment because it acted like a gateway drug for viewers. With the large platform they had for the movie, Hollywood now wants more of this. They will dig deeper and snatch up properties.”

…Don’t just throw in black characters to create inclusion, that’s painting by numbers. Do it when you’re ready.” – Kwanza Osajyefo

…Don’t just throw in black characters to create inclusion, that’s painting by numbers. Do it when you’re ready.” – Kwanza Osajyefo

Although there are a growing number of black artists and illustrators, Martinbrough said there is still a need to promote more black writers and editors.

“This is important because they make a lot of the decisions and with their perspective, they can figure out what’s more authentic,” Martinbrough said.

Hess said the comic industry also needs to work on improving gender, LGBTQ and minority racial diversity.

“There are very few women in a male-dominated space. There’s a lot of progress that can still be made.”


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13 Pop, Rock and Jazz Concerts to Check Out in NYC This Weekend

HOVVDY at Baby’s All Right (Feb. 16, 8 p.m.). Tempos stay slow and voices tender in this Austin, Tex., duo’s music, which is well suited to anyone who’s ever loved Yo La Tengo’s quieter moments. Their latest album, “Cranberry,” unfolds like an afternoon whose warm mood you remember long after the details have faded. Hovvdy (pronounced “Howdy”) will mark the LP’s release with this Brooklyn show.

INTERFERENCE AV at AMC Empire 25 (Feb. 19-21, 8 p.m.). This free festival will turn the AMC Empire 25, a large Times Square movie theater, into a temporary hub of avant-garde music. On Monday night, the Midwestern electronic producer Jlin will headline; on Tuesday night, the long-running noise-rock act Lightning Bolt will take over; and the Sun Ra Arkestra will close out the event on Wednesday night. Experimental video projections, D.J. sets and more will round out the festivities.

DAMIAN ‘JR. GONG’ MARLEY at PlayStation Theater (Feb. 22, 8 p.m.). Bob Marley’s youngest son has been a noteworthy reggae standard-bearer in his own right since the early 2000s, scoring an enduring solo hit with “Welcome to Jamrock” in 2005 and collaborating prominently with Nas and Mick Jagger, among others. Last year, he had a scene-stealing turn on Jay-Z’s Grammy-nominated album “4:44.” CyHi the Prynce and Stefflon Don open.



Andy Bey performing at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in 2011. Credit Ruby Washington/The New York Times


ANDY BEY at Minton’s Playhouse (Feb. 22, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.). With his round and crinkled baritone, Mr. Bey can turn jazz vocals into a vessel for close inspection and surprise (that beats the more typical role they play: delivering comfort and emotional payoff, without much work from the listener). Audiences in the 1960s knew him for his work in Andy and the Bey Sisters, a vocal trio, and in the ’70s he staked out distinctive terrain in the funk-fusion landscape. But since the 1990s, Mr. Bey, who doubles on piano, has thrived as a soloist. He performs jazz standards and his own poetic originals, letting the songs open up and slow down and sometimes nearly dissolve on his tongue.

GERALD CLAYTON QUARTET at Jazz Standard (through Feb. 18, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.). Mr. Clayton, a pianist with a lissome and prayerful touch, leads a quartet here featuring the bassist Yunior Terry, the drummer Obed Calvaire and the percussionist Gabo Lungo. The group is joined during this run by two special guests: On Friday, it’s the young vibraphonist Joel Ross; on Saturday and Sunday, the alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry. All of these musicians can play with ease and assurance, as if submitting to some ecstatic momentum, but they get there by different routes. Mr. Clayton’s piano playing cascades, illustrates and embellishes, whereas Mr. Ross likes to interpose and chatter, like a kinetic conversationalist. And Mr. Terry, on saxophone, treats the tousled rhythmic logic of Cuban rumba as his foundation, moving in arcs and dashes and sweeps of color.

CORCORAN HOLT at Ginny’s Supper Club (Feb. 17, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.). Mr. Holt, a bassist known for his work alongside the saxophonist Kenny Garrett, moved to New York from Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago. The title of Mr. Holt’s newly released debut album, “The Mecca,” nods to the idea that New York is jazz’s promised land. But the record’s sound suggests something else: the proud complexity of his hometown’s own musical history. (For much of the 20th century, after all, Washington was a jewel of black arts and letters nearly on par with Harlem.) There’s the sturdy, Southern-tinged swing feel; the proud, muscular harmonies beneath the lead lines; the occasional hand-drum rhythms, suggesting a lifelong exposure to go-go music. He’ll play songs from “The Mecca” here with Keith Loftis on tenor saxophone, Ashlin Parker on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano and McClenty Hunter on drums.

ALLEN LOWE at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Feb. 20, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.). Mr. Lowe doubles as an alto saxophonist and a kind of alternative cultural anthropologist. His histories of American popular music (“That Devilin’ Tune: A Jazz History 1900-1950” and “God Didn’t Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970,” among others) reflect a fathomless musical knowledge and an iconoclastic streak. Those elements define his music too: a loose meld of American folklore, halcyon pop and free jazz. For this concert, Mr. Lowe has convened a 13-piece band to honor the heavy influence of John Coltrane’s 1960s work. He’s doing it in decidedly unconventional fashion, reaching back to the polyphonic sound of early-20th-century New Orleans.

MIN XIAO-FEN WITH REZ ABBASI at Roulette (Feb. 18, 4 p.m.). Ms. Min plays the traditional pipa and other Chinese lutes with a hard-bitten, unflinching power. A conceptualist as well as a folklorist, she will present a new, original score for “The Goddess,” a seminal silent film from 1930s Shanghai. The music she has written draws from across the spectrum of Chinese heritage, including references to Tibetan chants as well as other folk forms, while remaining in contact with her jazz influences. Accompanying her is the prodigious guitarist Rez Abbasi.

JAY RODRIGUEZ AND SPECIAL GUESTS at Le Poisson Rouge (Feb. 20, 9:30 p.m.). Mr. Rodriguez plays with an unreserved flexibly on the tenor, alto and soprano saxophones; flute; and bass clarinet. Originally from Colombia, he has worked with artists from Prince to Elvis Costello to Marc Ribot. On his own forthcoming album, “Your Sound (Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola-Cola),” Mr. Rodriguez moves between idioms and energies as easily as he switches instruments. He celebrates the album’s release with this concert, featuring a powerhouse band: J. D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Arturo O’Farrill on piano, Melissa Slocum on bass, Victor Jones on drums and Billy Martin on percussion.


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Art Review: A Groundbreaking Show Presents a New, Inclusive Vision of American Art

“Outliers” opens with a two-walled area featuring four artists, carefully, and promisingly, positioning together taught and self-taught artworks of relatively recent vintage united by color, found materials and a degree of abstraction. Three works by the outsider sculptor Judith Scott (1943-2005), known for creating evocative misshapen presences by wrapping found objects in layers of yarn , share a low platform with the work of the mainstream artist Nancy Shaver, whose delicate assemblage-boxes covered with found papers and fabrics, resemble folk-art updates. An airy assemblage by Jessica Stockholder, also mainstream, takes elegant charge of one wall. On another hangs a large provocative quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936-2006) made of found fabrics, including segments of an American flag and towels, one depicting Jesus. It has the bold color and scale of a James Rosenquist Pop art painting.

That is just the overture. Because of the volume of material here, it’s best to view the show the way Ms. Cooke intended, by tackling the three periods chronologically.

1924 to 1943: Folk Aesthetics Reconfigured


Palmer Hayden “Untitled Dreamer,” from around 1930. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

This section traces the growing understanding of folk art’s formal simplicity as implicitly modern. It includes the work of trained artists who were early appreciators, among them, Charles Sheeler, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Marsden Hartley, Florine Stettheimer and Elie Nadelman. There are also unfamiliar works that mesmerize, including two from around 1930: “Adam and Eve and the Garden,” a carved wood tableau by José Dolores López that buzzes with medieval sprightliness, and Palmer Hayden’s “Untitled (Dreamer),” which depicts a black man sleeping in a pose and simplified style reminiscent of both Henri Rousseau and Paul Gauguin. The man’s head rests sweetly on a fringed pillow, while a trumpet, a guitar and a drum are played by disembodied hands.

The Museum of Modern Art collected and exhibited some of the self-taught artists found here under the leadership of its founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr. — a folk-art true believer. Perhaps the most surprising is the presence of work by Edward Hicks, the early-19th-century Quaker painter of sentient animals, including a “Peaceable Kingdom,” from about 1834, similar to the one the Modern once owned.


“Milky Way,” a 1945 dripped-paint abstraction by Janet Sobel. Credit The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA, via Art Resource, NY

At times the allegiance to chronology curtails chances to surprise. Lonnie Holley’s wonderful 1985 sculpture in carved sandstone is marooned just outside the show; it should have been with its (mostly) 1930s precursors, among the carved stone sculptures of William Edmondson and John B. Flanagan whose pairing is by now a bit tired. And there are strange missed opportunities: Milky Way,” a luminous dripped-paint abstraction from 1945 by the self-taught Ukrainian-American artist Janet Sobel, should have been paired with one by Jackson Pollock (who was aware of her work). But Ms. Cooke consistently skirts canonical figures; her vanguard artists are also in different ways outliers, except for art stars like Kara Walker and Cindy Sherman, both of whom appear later without much justification, though Ms. Sherman collects and has written about some of the outsider photographers grouped around her.

1968-1992: Commensurables and Incommensurables


Works from the 1968 to 1992 period include, forefront, John Outterbridge’s “Captive Image #1” from 1971-72. And clockwise from far left: Mr. Outterbridge’s “Captive Image #4” (circa 1974-76); Betye Saar’s “Sambo’s Banjo” (1975); and “Untitled” (1976) from Senga Nengudi. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The second section gives the show a combustible center; its title alludes to the debate over whether self-taught artists could be compared to trained ones or are incomparable. “Outsider art” supersedes “folk art,” connoting a more jarring, free-range aesthetic usually from outside the Northeast, as demonstrated here. Starting in an almost too spacious gallery this section contains the most intense visual conversations between taught and self-taught.

First, it’s between the idiosyncratically figurative Chicago Imagists (Roger Brown, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson) and some of the outsider greats they discovered, recovered or championed: Ramírez, Joseph Yoakum and P.M. Wentworth. The back and forth between Brown’s meticulous landscape forms and Yoakum’s is especially rewarding.

Next, there is also a dialogue regarding visceral materials and sometimes painful themes between self-taught and taught African-American artists. The first group gained wider attention with “Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980,” a landmark exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1982. They included David Butler (1898-1997), who fashioned animals, angels and people from cut and painted tin and other found items; the religious painter Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980); Steve Ashby (1904-1980), who made raw figurative assemblages out of scavenged materials; and Elijah Pierce (1892-1984), whose carved and painted wood reliefs depict biblical scenes and national figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Then the show turns to work by the second group, an imposing cadre of trained artists working in Los Angeles like Betye Saar, John Outterbridge, Senga Nengudi and Noah Purifoy, who worked for decades at the margins of the mainstream, exploring aspects of assemblage and found materials as well as political expression in often abstract forms.

1998-2013: Determining Difference Differently


Greer Lankton’s dolls, which she used to allude to her transition to womanhood and celebrate various kinds of glamorous icons, including the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The show starts to unravel as it rushes through its final section, despite the title’s koan-like optimism. Mr. Holley’s two delicate assemblages may make you yearn for something bigger and more ferocious from this versatile Southern outsider, and also for the obstreperous painted or rusted metal reliefs by his friend Thornton Dial, who is inexplicably absent. Two formally educated artists especially make sense in the “outlier” zone. One is Greer Lankton, whose drawings, photographs and dolls allude to her transition to womanhood and celebrate various glamorous icons, including the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who remains unforgettably elegant amid tragedy, in the famous pink Chanel suit she wore on Nov. 22, 1963. The other is Matt Mullican, whose large drawings on paper-backed bedsheets covered with numbers, words and images has a “drawing in tongues” quality, and were partly achieved through hypnosis. It is however unclear what — besides being two-sided — his work has to do with the big watercolors of the towering outsider talent Henry Darger (1892-1973), whose illustrated epic about the Vivian Girls used enlarged images from children’s coloring books and would be better compared with Warhol.

In the last gallery you can revel in the vibrant geometric quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph and Annie Mae Young, who emerged in the rapturously received exhibition “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” which toured the country in 2002. Also here are two more quilts, made of small irregular squares of color, by the great Rosie Lee Tompkins. Ms. Tompkins may belong to the string of geniuses who emerged in the last three decades of the 20th century. But who knows, there always seem to be more, expanding and improving the story of American art.

Looking for More Information? Here’s a History


Morris Hirshfield’s “Girl With Pigeons,” part of the exhibition “Outliers and American Vanguard Art,” is in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The first section of “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” includes a memorable glimpse of the MoMA’s early devotion to self-taught artists. This involvement is known, but seeing it made flesh with wonderful works of art is a different order of magnitude — at once exciting and saddening. We see a museum that might have been: more open and democratic, less bound up in the rigid Francophile narrative that defined the Modern in the later decades of the 20th century.

Barr, the museum’s founding director, viewed self-taught and educated art as equally essential to 20th-century modernism. Ultimately, this didn’t sit well with the museum’s blue-blooded trustees, and it was among the main reasons he was fired in 1943.

Barr, who might well have embraced the “outliers” term, is the de facto hero of Ms. Cooke’s National Gallery exhibition: a historic figure and early adopter of the integration that her exhibition proposes. It’s enticing to consider how different the Modern and the art world might be had his directorship continued. “Outliers” and its predecessors might not even have been necessary.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, Barr and his curatorial staff mounted several shows of self-taught artists and included them in more general exhibitions. Rousseau, the French naïve painter who is represented in “Outliers” by three silent, hallucinatory canvases, was arguably the cornerstone of Barr’s self-taught faith. An American favorite was John Kane, known for his dense paintings of life and industry in and around Pittsburgh, like the one in “Outliers,” and also for his startling 1929 self-portrait. One of six Kanes still in the Modern’s collection, it shows a bare-chested strongman going soft, seemingly deified by three thick white bands that frame his head.

One of the “MoMA-owns-this?” surprises in “Outliers” is Dominique-Paul Peyronnet’s “The Ferryman at Moselle,” from around 1934. This polished vignette freezes forever a moment from World War I: its protagonist has just cut the ferry’s rope, capsizing his boat and its load of German soldiers while others watch from the bank. A great artist who got away is also here: a dozen of Bill Traylor’s taut silhouettes of town and farm life. Barr tried to buy a group of Traylors in 1941 for such a pittance that his offer was spurned. No one gets every great thing that comes along, not even Alfred Barr.

In 1941, a new installation of the museum’s permanent collection began with a gallery of “modern primitives,” but Barr’s time was running out. One of the last straws was an exhibition of the paintings of the retired tailor Morris Hirshfield, represented in “Outliers” by “Girl With Pigeons” (1942), which shows a statue-like figure reclining on a splendid red couch. Today the most prominent vestige of Barr’s folk-art advocacy is Rousseau’s work, such a familiar part of the Modern’s identity that it barely registers as “self-taught.”

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