Hold: A Meditation on Black Aesthetics

Glenn Ligon, Self Portrait at Eleven Years Old, 2004. Museum purchase Kathleen Compton Sherrerd Fund for Acquisitions in American Art / © Glenn Ligon; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, NYC, Regen Projects, LA, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London

One of the most contentious and capacious concepts of the modern era, black aesthetics names both a tradition of visual art, music, and literature and a set of linkages, resonances, and breaks.

During the 1960s, black artists and intellectuals embraced the idea of a black aesthetic as an ideological alternative to Eurocentric notions of beauty and taste. Since then, black aesthetics has served more broadly as a site of convergence across the African diaspora, weaving a history of placelessness and belonging, support and constraint, holding and being held.

The works in this exhibition, ranging from the 1950s to the present, embody various ways the aesthetic realm has enabled re-imaginings of blackness. Rather than narrowly defining a genre or a mode of expression, these examples of black art speak to alternate ways of seeing, feeling, living, and being together in the world. Together, they meditate on the word “hold” as a metaphor for thinking about the diverse expressive forms that gather under the banner of black art. Ultimately, Hold questions what animates and brings together the expansive terrain of creativity we call black aesthetics.

Nijah Cunningham

Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts Lecturer, Department of African American Studies and Department of English

Funded by the Art Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Faculty Innovation, Nijah Cunningham’s Fall 2017 undergraduate course “Black Aesthetics: Art, Literature, and Politics in the African Diaspora” situated objects from the Museum’s collections in conversation with literary works in order to rethink notions of identity and representation.


Download the exhibition checklist