The exhibition features more than 110 objects, including paintings, sculptures, reliefs and works on paper. Lawrence’s Nigeria series (1964-65) anchors the exhibition and appears alongside works by several Mbari Artists and Writers Club members, including Duro Ladipo, Twins Seven-Seven, Muraina Oyelami, Asiru Olatunde, Jacob Afolabi and Adebisi Akanji. The show also includes letters Lawrence wrote to his friends in the United States about his experiences in Nigeria and copies of Black Orpheus (1957-67), the Nigeria-based literary journal that showcases the works of modernist African and African Diasporic writers and visual artists.
The exhibition is organized into five sections that offer insight into Lawrence’s experiences and emphasize the global diversity of the artists affiliated with Black Orpheus and the Mbari Artists and Writers Club. Nigeria, the first section of the exhibition, introduces viewers to Lawrence’s representation of the country through depictions of its splendid markets, complex communities and permeable spiritual practices. Artists of Osogbo follows with works of several little-known Nigerian artists who learned a range of artistic traditions—printmaking, batik textiles and painting—from older generations of Western and non-Western artists. Their images inspired younger generations. Zaria Art Society showcases a small group of Nigerian artists who met at the National College of Art & Technology and developed a philosophy called “natural synthesis,” where the artists incorporated local aesthetics and cultural traditions with western-style art techniques to create a new modern art form. Across the African Continent features artists from other countries outside of Nigeria who also trained in European art styles yet featured iconography and stories from their own cultures as modes of new artistic expression. The exhibition concludes with Beyond the African Continent, featuring artists from around the world whose dynamic creations mirrored those of their counterparts in Africa.
Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club is co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is curated by Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the Brooklyn Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art and the Chrysler Museum of Art’s former McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art, and Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, Ph.D., the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s curator of African art and the New Orleans Museum of Art’s former Françoise Billion Richardson curator of African art.
Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club was made possible in part by major funding from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Getty Foundation Paper Project, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. This exhibition's presentation at the Toledo Museum of Art is sponsored locally by Presenting Sponsors Susan and Tom Palmer; Season Sponsor ProMedica; Platinum Sponsor Taylor Cadillac; Gold Sponsors Bank of America, the Bevington Family, Todd and Jeannie Peters, and Cynthia and Ron Thompson; and Silver Sponsor Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP. Additional support provided by The TMA Ambassadors, Teresa A. Radzinski, Christie's, and the Ohio Arts Council (OAC).