This is the first touring retrospective of the work of Aaron Douglas and included approximately 100 paintings, works on paper, and book illustrations from this leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Born to laborer parents in Topeka, Kansas, Aaron Douglas (1899–1979) overcame many obstacles to follow his passion for art and his desire for equality. After relocating to Harlem at twenty-six, he became one of the first artists to put African aesthetic influences and African American life, labor, and freedom at the center of modern art. Douglas was a true pioneer during a critical period of American history; his ambitious pursuit of justice through the paintbrush continues to inspire artists today.
In 1925, after earning a B.F.A. degree from the University of Nebraska then teaching at an elite, all-black high school in Kansas City, Douglas migrated to New York to join the cultural flourishing that has been called the New Negro Movement or the Harlem Renaissance. The young artists, writers, and musicians he met there believed creative expression could help define a unique racial identity and simultaneously bridge the divide between black and white communities. In a distinct style based on silhouetted figures and fractured space, Douglas began creating images that evoked the harsh realities of African-American life as well as hopes for a better future. Douglas later taught art for three decades at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, where he influenced several generations of gifted artists.
Throughout his career Douglas projected a dignified voice of opposition and aspiration through his powerful imagery. This exhibition is the first nationally touring retrospective to celebrate the art and legacy of Aaron Douglas who is today considered the foremost visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance and “the father of Black American art.” The exhibition included approximately 100 paintings, works on paper, and book illustrations.