Amistad’s new exhibition, To Preserve Their Freedom: Jacob Lawrence's Toussaint L'Ouverture Serigraph Series, seeks to celebrate the centenary of Jacob Lawrence’s birth and his artistic contributions. In 1938, Jacob Lawrence was a twenty-one-year old graduate of the American Artist School in New York. Like many of his contemporaries, Lawrence’s work was funded in part by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal project that employed artists during the Great Depression. Lawrence, however, did not rely on this source of support for long.
In 1938, he completed his first major series. Named for the legendary Haitian leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, who helped to emancipate Haiti from Spanish and French rule, the series catapulted Lawrence into the national spotlight. The forty-one panel Toussaint L’Ouverture Series was steeped in modernism, but blended elements of expressionism and cubism. His Series bears several influences. With an air of monumentalism and an epic show of struggle against oppression, the Toussaint L’Ouverture Series reflects the hallmarks of Mexican Muralists and Social Realists.
Under the tutelage and support of mentors Charles Ashton and Augusta Savage, Lawrence trumpeted his ownership of black cultural expression and approximated the vitality of the African Diaspora in the arts. His Toussaint L’Ouverture Series coincided with the burgeoning interest of black artists in Haiti. According to art historian Krista A. Thompson, “Haiti was in the imaginations of many African American artists throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a period that coincided with the U.S. occupation of the island.” Her assertion is evidenced by the work of visual and literary artists of the period such as Langston Hughes, Lois Mailou Jones, and William Edouard Scott.
Lawrence subsequently reimagined his original forty-one panels as fifteen dynamic serigraphs, which illustrate Lawrence’s ingenious use of color, angled lines, stark figures, and his command of composition. This exhibition of the Toussaint L’Ouverture limited edition print series is a testament to Lawrence’s dexterity as an artist and his mastery of historical narrative. Accompanying the prints are materials drawn from Amistad’s various collections that illustrate how Lawrence, as well as other African American artists and writers imagined Toussaint L’Ouverture and other leaders of the Haitian Revolution. The exhibition is on display in the Center’s mezzanine exhibition gallery from May 30 – August 31, 2017. Public hours are 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday - Friday and 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Saturday. The exhibition is free.
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