Group exhibition

'Aaron Douglas: Sermons'

Presented in the SCAD Museum of Art’s Evans Center for African American Studies, Aaron Douglas: Sermons explores the artist’s profound influence on creative practice today. The exhibition places key artworks by Douglas (American, 1899–1979) in conversation with work by contemporary artists, forming a constellation of connections, resonances, and direct references to Douglas’ work that demonstrates how the artist’s influence and the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance remain very much alive. The exhibition includes work by Adebukola Bodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels, Afua Richardson, Akeema-Zane and Rena Anakwe, Allison Janae Hamilton, Diedrick Brackens, Khari Johnson Ricks, and Kara Walker.

Born in Topeka, Kan., Douglas was a defining artist of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of rich cross-disciplinary activity within African American art and culture. Douglas, a painter, illustrator, and visual arts educator, was a multimodal artist whose diverse body of work includes public murals and illustrations of significant texts addressing social issues of race and segregation in the U.S. By mixing a wide variety of aesthetic and stylistic influences, including African-centric imagery, Douglas helped establish a groundbreaking visual vocabulary for Black Americans that captured the complexity of African American identity and history while centering the stories and contributions of his peers and contemporaries.

Signature image for Aaron Douglas exhibition
Aaron Douglas, "The Creation," 1927, gouache with graphite underdrawing on paper, 11 3/4 x 9 in. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Walter O. Evans and Mrs. Linda J. Evans.

Central to the exhibition are four illustrations by Douglas from the SCAD Museum of Art’s Walter and Linda Evans Collection of African American Art, three of which were originally commissioned by James Weldon Johnson to accompany his widely acclaimed and immensely popular book of poems, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Published in 1927 and inspired by sermons of African American preachers, God’s Trombones has become one of the most significant documents capturing the eloquence and oratory skill of Black preachers. The fourth illustration on view is the original artwork Douglas produced to accompany Langston Hughes’ 1921 poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Written when Hughes was 17 while riding a train crossing the Mississippi River to visit his father in Mexico, the poem was published a year later and is credited for launching Hughes’ literary career.

Building on the intellectual and creative vision of the Harlem Renaissance that brought many kinds of creative work together, Aaron Douglas: Sermons expands on Douglas’ aesthetic, conceptual, and political legacy. The exhibition pays particular attention to the ways moving images, intonation, collaboration, and performance connect the art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance with contemporary artists actively shaping the aesthetics and politics of representation. 

Credits

Aaron Douglas: Sermons is organized by SCAD Museum of Art curator DJ Hellerman.

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