Black Panthers and Young Lords at UNC, and Nelson Mandela's paintings in Durham | Visual Art | Indy Week
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Black Panthers and Young Lords at UNC, and Nelson Mandela's paintings in Durham 

Art as revolution

click to enlarge "Young Lord at Rally in Support of New York Panther 21, Bobby Seale and Rafael Viera, Queens County Jail, New York, March 1969," photograph by Hiram Maristany. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SONJA HAYNES STONE CENTER / HIRAM MARISTANY COLLECTION
  • Photo Courtesy of Sonja Haynes Stone Center / Hiram Maristany Collection
  • "Young Lord at Rally in Support of New York Panther 21, Bobby Seale and Rafael Viera, Queens County Jail, New York, March 1969," photograph by Hiram Maristany.

Radicals in Black and Brown: Palante, People's Power, and Common Cause in the Black Panthers and the Young Lords Organization, now on display at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at UNC, is a rich exhibit packed with photographs, documentary films and artifacts from the age of American radicalism, when the Black Panthers' call for armed resistance captivated the world's gaze.

Stone Center Director Joseph Jordan, who developed the exhibit with Johanna Fernandez and Charles Jones (with whom he was co-curator), says the impetus was to show the relationship between the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist group that was conceived in Chicago in the late 1950s. Jordan says that to understand the radical groups of the '60s, it's important to contextualize and not "look at [any organization] in isolation ... the Black Panthers were just like any other political movement ... the commerce of thought was continuous." This aspect of the exhibit calls to mind the Center for Documentary Studies' display of Stephen Shames' photography last winter, where revelatory images were shown of Young Patriots wearing Confederate flags standing in solidarity with Black Panther militants.

In addition to intimate photographs of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, Radicals in Black and Brown also includes a stunning candid portrait of Denise Oliver by Hiram Maristany. Oliver, the first woman to serve on the Young Lords Organization's Central Committee, brought a feminist perspective to the group's leadership. Identifying themselves as "Puerto Rican Independentistas," a quarter of the Young Lords' membership was African American. Similar to the Black Panthers, the party advocated direct action and community self-sufficiency.

Perhaps the most dramatic artifacts on display at Radicals in Black and Brown are Emory Douglas' incendiary black and white and color offset posters that show black youth armed and proud. Particularly striking is "Mother and Son With Target" (1967), a bold graphic depicting a mother giving an infant a rifle. In the Black Panthers' newspaper, Emory wrote in 1968, "Art as Revolution—the Black Panther calls it 'Revolutionary Art'—this kind of art enlightens the party to continue its vigorous attack against the enemy, as well as educate the masses of Black people"—hardly rhetoric heard by any discernable political voice in contemporary America, even considering that the U.S. Justice Department reports that over 10 percent of the entire African-American male population aged 25 to 29 is currently locked up in the prison-industrial complex.

Looking at the charismatic figures who emerge in Radicals in Black and Brown, it's easy to see why many throughout the world looked to American radicals for guidance in the civil rights era. In the current political climate, where the confines of the national debate can be consumed by a non-binding and lukewarm resolution expressing mere disapproval over deploying additional troops to a neo-colonial venture, it would appear that the revolutionary zeitgeist has departed the Untied States. Radical inspiration is now to be found in the Latin world, in places such as Chiapas, Venezuela and Bolivia. Jordan says that the radical activists he has met in his travels in South America have often noted that the American radicals of the '60s inspired their struggle.

"It's unfortunate that it's sometimes 30 or 40 years before a movement's significance is understood," Jordan says. Speaking of the frustration often experienced by radical activists, in reference to the young men pictured in Carlos Flores' "Armitage Boys" (1969), Jordan says: "We should not dismiss the power of youth to transform."

Radicals in Black and Brown is on exhibit through March 31. For more information, contact the Stone Center at 962-9001 or visit ibiblio.org/shscbch/ribb.


click to enlarge Nelson Mandela's "The Ward" (2002). Lithograph printed on 100% cotton paper. 25.6 in. by 19 in. Edition of 350. - PHOTO BY TOM FULDNER
  • Photo by Tom Fuldner
  • Nelson Mandela's "The Ward" (2002). Lithograph printed on 100% cotton paper. 25.6 in. by 19 in. Edition of 350.

Celebrated for resisting racial oppression on another continent, perhaps no other individual freedom fighter is as widely respected as Nelson Mandela. An exhibit of his drawings is now on display at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. The drawings, first shown in 2002, render simply in bold strokes the Robben Island facility where Mandela was incarcerated in 1964. Mandela would ultimately spend 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned in the bleak island compound. Titled The Spirit of Freedom, the charcoal and pastel lithographs convey with color a sense of fortitude and optimism—traits famously attributed to the South African leader when he faced brutal adversity. The show's press release notes that Mandela's limited edition prints have raised millions of dollars to benefit AIDS and children's charities since their debut in 2002.

Spirit of Freedom: Drawings and Narratives by Nelson Mandela is free and open to the public through April 27. See www.americantobaccocampus.com or call 433-4260 for more information.

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