The Harlem Renaissance – America’s Art and History
One of the things I appreciate about art is how it brings history to life. Art helps me to understand the past in a way that no history book ever has. Art is personal, nuanced, and rich with emotion, connecting us to personal stories and experiences from the past, providing greater depth and meaning to history.
The Harlem Renaissance
I remember first hearing of the Harlem Renaissance in a college art history class, until that point I had never been aware of this creative period in American history.
The Harlem Renaissance refers to a period in America’s history when there was a wealth of art, literature, music and dance created by African Americans. It was during this period, after the end of World War I to just before the Great Depression, that The Great Migration occurred, when a larger percentage of black Americans moved from the south to industrial cities in the northeast and mid-west.
This was a period when significant social and geographic changes were taking place in the nation, and the art from this period both reflected theses changes and helped to drive further social change.
Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance
This period in American history was also an historic time for women, after decades of struggle women gained the right to vote in 1920. The art and writing of many of the African- American women during this period addressed not only race issues but gender issues as well.
Here are three women artists working during the Harlem Renaissance who’s work both reflected and helped to further social change.
(1) Zora Neale Hurston
Writer Zora Neale Hurston published poetry, short stories, novels and an autobiography, but it was her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for which she is most famous. After publication the novel, a coming of age story of an independent black woman met initially met with mixed critical success.
However, Alice Walker’s 1972 essay in Ms Magazine “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” resulted in the book being reprinted and it is now a highly acclaimed novel.
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. – Zora Neale Hurston
(2) Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller a visual artist, started her art career by winning a scholarship to attend Philadelphia Museum School for the Arts and after earning her degree continued her art education in Paris, where she studied under Auguste Rodin.
Fuller’s sculpture Ethiopia Awakening depicts an African woman in a regal headdress, the lower portion of the body wrapped like a mummy, and is is described as symbolic of the emerging voice of black America.
(3) Bessie Smith
Blues singer Bessie Smith, considered one of the greatest singers of her era, performed on the vaudeville touring circuit, recorded for Columbia Records and made an appearance in a film and on Broadway.
She collaborated with numerous jazz and blues musicians, including Louis Armstrong. Smith was bold and independent, and this was reflected in her music.