Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Black is Beautiful

"Black is Beautiful, from Rubens to Dumas" is a fabulous new exhibit at De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Beginning with manuscripts from Medieval times and continuing through paintings of 2008, the exhibit charts the ways in which black people have been portrayed in Dutch art. From biblical to social themes, black people are represented through 700 years of art and the exhibit is shown in the 15th century New Church, or De Nieuwe Kerk.

As Dutch exploration of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries expanded, so too did slavery in the Netherlands. Blacks were brought back to the Netherlands from western Africa and Surinam, and were laborers as well as house servants. Dutch colonies expanded into Brazil, and often the blacks from Surinam were taken from the Netherlands to those Dutch colonies. When slavery was abolished in the Netherlands in 1863, many blacks remained as citizens, even becoming Dutch diplomats.

The exhibition is broad, encompasing many types of art over 700 years. However, artists such as Rembrant, Rubens, Jordaens, and Dumas are represented. From the amazing 14th century Bibles with exquisite calligraphy and paintings to the 16th century painting of Moses with his black African wife, Biblical art is represented. I was absolutely taken with the life-sized paintings of the 17th century blacks taken to Brazil. They are exquisitely painted and beautifully detailed. 20th century artists profiled several famous black Dutch musicians and actors.

If you are not headed across the pond in time to see Black is Beautiful, then head to Charleston, South Carolina to see "Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art" at the Gibbes Museum of Art. African slaves brought to Charleston in the 18th and 19th centuries used their amazing talent of coiling baskets from Low Country grasses to create vessels to winnow rice. Although these baskets were a tool for the slaves, today the sweetgrass baskets are considered a symbol of African American identity and are magnificent works of art. In the 20th century, traditions continued and "fancy" baskets for artistic purposes have been made by renown artists such as Mary Jackson. It is an amzing and educational exhibit of the history of African-Americans and the talents they brought with them.

St. Andrews from the Cathedral