By Sarah Balcombe
Just like nothing said summer like Alex Katz at the Neuberger, nothing says winter and particularly the winter of our discontent than Charles White- A Retrospective at MOMA.
With images such as Love Letter I 1971 (above) protesting the arrest of Black Panther activist Angela Davis and Birmingham Totem 1964 (below) referencing the 1963 Klu Klux Klan killing in Sixteenth St Baptist Church in Alabama, it is poignant to reflect on this year past, with so many racially motivated destructive acts carried out in places of worship across the United States.
White’s detailed illustrations and images of dignity, strength and suffering provided the narrative for many African Americans, empowering a social consciousness leading up to and during the Civil Rights Movement.
It possible that in his later years ,White was influenced by artists such as Barkley L Hendricks whose Icon for My Superman 1969 (below) has a similar boldness and sense of irony to White’s Sound of Silence, 1978 (above).
Undoubtedly White’ s work paved the way for more recent artists, such as Kehinde Wiley whose decorative Alios Itzhak (The World Stage: Israel)
shows a remarkably similar palette, to White’s commemorative Banner for Willy J, 1976 (below).
During the cold snap be sure to catch the last few days of this stunning retrospective, listen to the accompanying soundtrack and podcasts by Harry Belafonte and Kerry James Marshall, then beat a hasty retreat downtown to the Whitney to check out Andy Warhol’s images of Mustard Race Riot, 1963 (below). It is no coincidence that this was the same year that Martin Luther King gave his “ I Have a Dream” speech.
A better tribute to Martin Luther King Day, I have yet to find.