At the New Museum in NYC, currently lies the works of Faith Ringgold. Faith Ringgold is a well-rounded creative who was born in Harlem in the 1930s. A lot of her work is inspired by African art. What you see in the New Museum is a variety of these vibrant and colorful quilts. The idea for these quilts began in collaboration with her mother Madame Willi Posey. Her paintings are bordered with fabric that’s been quilted and this is one of the many mediums Ringgold uses while expressing herself through different art forms.
This particular quilt Sonny’s Bridge was created through the exposure of art she witnessed as a child. The jazz musician depicted is Sonny Rollins blowing into his saxophone. The coloring in the art seems to mimic the vibrancy and liveliness of jazz music and it’s quite striking with its tie dye and geometric stripes surrounding the piece.
Ringgold must invoke a great sense of pride in many people for her amazing contributions to the world with her art. It’s admirable to see an African American woman express herself freely and tell meaningful stories through such a creative medium. While the vibrancy in the colors is captivating in her work, it does not take away from the messages she’s trying to convey. Not only is she uplifting the heart and soul of African American’s but she is displaying her culture in a way that calls attention to what it really means to convey racial expression and racial identity. It truly is noteworthy seeing works created by African American women with the help of other African American women. It not only makes the stories more meaningful but it gives a voice to those who aren’t recognized enough for their efforts to improve society and allows a woman to depict herself and her culture in her own way.
Harlem became the hub of African American culture in the early 20th century. Here lies a place in New York City that radiated with new ideas, imaginations, and a newfound identity for African Americans. What is recognized as the Harlem Renaissance is a movement that was curated to establish a foundation for social activism and to voice a new spirit for Black culture.
Not only was this movement a major turning point for Black artistry, but it was a time of new beginnings for the youth as the younger generation influenced this brilliance. With so many creative influences being brought into the light through major Black publications like Opportunity, the younger generation was being exposed to these bold new ideas that hopefully sparked a new sense of identity for them. You might begin to wonder, what new ideas were being encouraged to the youth during this time and why were they so important?
One of the major issues during the Harlem Renaissance was for African Americans to gain control over the representation of Black culture. Before that, a lot of Black culture was really only represented through the white man’s point of view. With the help of Black scholars, activists, and artists there was a new voice for African Americans that began the movement towards freedom. Through artistry Harlem became this haven that fostered creativity, autonomy, and self-expression. You have all of this new poetry and art that’s encouraging the youth to show strength and be confident and essentially work towards a better tomorrow.
Countee Cullen represented one of the biggest voices of hope and life for the Black community during this time. As a young writer during his time, his words had this intriguing and romantic flare that hid so much meaning that was just waiting to be unraveled by those who read it. In his poem, To One Who Said Me Nay, Cullen writes, “This much is granted for an hour: That we are young and tender…Oh, wear my heart today; tomorrow who knows where the winds will blow it?” (143). These lines reference that African Americans are only young once and not for long. Cullen then goes on to allude to the idea that you should be open about your emotions and act on them because who know’s what’ll happen. This idea of using your voice and doing what you want seems to be a common theme in Cullen’s work. He really romanticizes the idea of choice and doing what makes you happy and what can make the biggest impact on your life. It’s refreshing and empowering to hear these words because they touch on such necessary ideologies. It seems that Cullen wants the Black American youth to go out and live life without censoring themselves, and he is encouraging them to use their hearts to guide them in the direction of their destiny.
Angelina W. Grimke was another young writer during the Harlem Renaissance who primarily focused on being an activist for African Americans and highlighting the racial injustices they faced in America. Her poetry was very popular at the time and her way with words can definitely attest to her greatness. In her poem, For the Candle Light, Grimke writes, “The sky was blue, so blue that day…Oh! I knew that no more could rains fall gray” (263). In these lines Grimke seems to stress the idea that life at the moment is beautiful. There are good days and there’s nothing that can change that or make those days bad. She could very well be referring to the Harlem Renaissance. It was indeed a period of great accomplishments for African Americans and a blossoming of ingenuity and high spirits.
Grimke also mentions, “Well, if night is night…I have in a book, for the candle light, A daisy, dead and dry” (263). In these lines it almost seems that she is accepting of bad days. Even if bad days appear, there will always be good days to look back on. This can relate to the idea that injustice and bad days will never fully go away. While African Americans have made progress in the fight to freedom and to accurately represent themselves and continue to make progress, there are always setbacks. There are always things that get in the way of progress and the world is still not fully accepting and equal. But Grimke sheds a positive light on this situation in the sense that achievements have been made and African Americans should be proud of that and look back on those achievements because they are very important. The daisy symbolizes something that will always be remembered. No matter how much time passes, it’s major impacts and accomplishments that reassure better days and solidify that change has been made. Those very achievements are what the youth look up to. And it’s the youth that are going to grow up and decide how they are going to contribute to that greatness.
For the African American youth at that time they were to become the new tomorrow. They were to be legacies for the already inspiring scholars, activists, and artists. So it was crucial that they take in all of the new ideas being introduced to them and immerse themselves in the New Negro movement. Essentially, these already experienced public African American voices were tasked with emphasizing the need to be politically active and racially conscious. Their next task was to influence the youth and not only to inform them, but to ensure that they keep these ideas/goals going in hopes of a better future for Black America. The Harlem Renaissance was a huge contribution that paved the way for that change and new ideas that have only gotten stronger with time.
When one thinks of nonfiction they think fact. It’s a genre that will always provide relevant sources and materials to help support a certain topic. Similarly, topics like racial prejudice, the New Negro, and the identity of African Americans are all things that were recognized during the Harlem Renaissance and are all supported by facts. On the other hand, when we think about fiction there might be a misconception. When one thinks about the word fiction a word that comes to mind is “fake”. Since fictional works aren’t supported by facts, people have the tendency to discredit them and don’t show the same appreciation to a piece of work that is filled with a person’s own opinions and raw emotions.
The thing with fiction, however, is that it does a great job of enchanting the reader and it gives that little extra something. Nonfiction is very concrete and it doesn’t leave you with any room to add your own input or be creative. With fiction, you can really make a piece of work your own and introduce a topic in a way that inspires and evokes new feelings and perspectives one might not have noticed by just looking at concrete information.
Survey Graphic includes a lot of visuals, stories, personal essays, and poems. These fictive works do an amazing job of highlighting some of the topics we find interesting and hold near and dear to us such as the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro Movement. Now, because they aren’t so concrete they also make you wonder, what exactly is it that the writer is trying to communicate in these works? Countee Cullen is one of the poets whose work is included in Survey Graphic. When reading his poem “To a Brown Girl”, Cullen uses his artistry to touch upon the concept of identity and freedom. As Cullen suggests, “Youth is the time for careless weather; Later, lass, be weary” (“Survey Graphic”, 660). From these lines, you can interpret that Cullen is encouraging African American women to fall in love and live their life. Contrary to what the norms are/were (especially during his time), Cullen is all for freedom and self-expression. In his work, he’s debunking following the rules and what’s expected of you as an African American woman and encouraging the following of your own path. To be a good African American woman doesn’t mean you have to compromise love and enjoying life.
When looking for a visual to represent the message behind the poem, this gif really stood out to me. The main thing I took from the poem is that African American women are valuable and strong. To me, this gif highlighted that quite literally. Pictured you see a girl who’s absolutely glowing with a rainbow behind her. It invoked feelings of inner and outer beauty as well as strength. It felt right to include it and that little rainbow in the back really just inspired positivity, vibrancy, and transformation. Maybe when Cullen wrote his poem he wanted African American women to feel just that. To experience life while you’re young and have no regrets.
It’s works like this that not only resonate more with readers than nonfiction but also inform people in a way you would not be able to receive if you read a piece of nonfiction. To learn something by digging deep into a jumble of one’s thoughts can truthfully be hard to grasp and interpret. However, it’s that exact way of figuring something out that can sometimes be more impactful and thought-provoking.
The Crisis started out as a publication with the intent of highlighting real African American culture. The many aesthetically pleasing covers we see not only created a national buzz, but they also emphasized identity.
“The Crisis in its layout and content stages a jointly political and aesthetic conflict. Columns of numbers arranged chronologically, building to the present, attest to the contemporary consolidation of a black print culture, one that can simultaneously distribute positive images of African Americans and take out negative ones.” (p.81, Harris, Printing the Color Line in The Crisis)
Prior to this publication, African Americans were painted in a way as viewed by white people. The Crisis combatted racial prejudice and sought to paint African Americans how they rightfully should be portrayed. It was important to ensure that these covers were seen as proper and pleasing to the eye. Not only to help prevent discrimination, but also to accentuate the magnificence of African Americans. Seeing covers of beautiful women, proper-looking men, athletes, educated people, etc. invokes a sense of amazement. It makes you wonder, how are these covers influencing the people and their identities?
The queen we see in the March 1913 cover oozes strength and excellence. She does the job of being appealing in a political way, but there’s also something else. She’s beautiful, she’s graceful…she’s an it-girl. For all the girls grabbing this cover, it must’ve made them proud. She appeals to readers because she influences thoughts like “I am a queen”, or “I am strong”, or even “I am a leader”. The cover creates self-confidence and the idea that I am worth it, and I too can be that girl. It’s a wonderful feeling to feel represented and portrayed in such a positive light.
As Harris suggests, “The Crisis becomes quite clear here: first, it wants to aggregate information on African American achievements and circulate them to a national reading public so as to provide a counterhistory to racist mass culture, but it also wants to project a future when such work will not be necessary—that is, like the eponymous character in Cather’s “Ardessa,” a future in which it will have worked itself out of a job.” ( p.69, Harris, Printing the Color Line in The Crisis)
The Crisis calls attention to the importance of identity. African Americans have, for so long, fought to receive dignity and human respect. These publications shed light on the idea that African Americans have an identity. And it’s just as strong as any other race. So, while the basis of The Crisis was to counter injustices, its long-term goal is more than that. It hopes to reach a point in time where there is no more need to defend the race. It hopes to reach peace and continue on printing publications that share who African Americans are and what makes them so special. It hopes to highlight pride and show the new generations how stunning and talented their ancestors before them were and how they too are just as extraordinary. It should also invoke a sense of drive to want to love and be the best version of yourself.