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.