Harlem Renaissance Arts: Painting the Portrait of the New Negro
The Harlem Renaissance, originally called the New Negro Movement, can be described as a cultural explosion that took place in Harlem in the early 1900’s. During this period Harlem was a haven for black writers, artists, actors, musicians and scholars. Through literature and art, blacks created a new image for themselves defying pervading racial stereo types. Blacks were finally able to showcase their many talents as well as their intellect, forming a concrete image of the New Negro. The New Negro was not comfortable being categorized as rural, and undereducated. During the Harlem Renaissance, there was a battle to create the image of the New Negro and visuals artists fought on the front line. Sculptors, painters and photographers presented bold portraits of African Americans during this period, as well as scenes of black life. Alongside their counterparts in literature, visual artists aimed to gain control over the representation of their people. Black painters and sculptors developed a new repertoire of the black social and cultural image and discarded white caricature and denigration. After the abolishment of slavery, the newly emancipated African Americans began to strive for civic participation, political equality, economic and cultural self-determination. Whites deprived blacks of their civil and political rights by terrorizing black communities with lynch mobs and other forms of violence. As life in the South became increasingly difficult, African Americans began to migrate north in great numbers. African Americans sought a better standard of living from the institutionalized racism in the South. Through this great migration the New Negro was born. The New Negro had a more outspoken advocacy of dignity and a refusal to submit to the practices and laws of Jim Crow and segregation. Harlem was the destination for several blacks from around the country, attracting both people seeking work from the South, and an educated class who made the area a center of culture. The migration of southern Blacks to the north transformed the image of the African American from “undereducated peasants to one of urban, cosmopolitan sophistication.” (Carol, 80) This renewed identity led to a greater social consciousness, and paved the way for Blacks to branch out culturally, intellectually and socially. The Harlem Renaissance was developed out of the changes that had taken place in the African-American community since the expansion of black communities in the North. These communities expanded as a consequence of the various social and cultural changes in the United States. Contributing factors leading to the Harlem Renaissance were the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities, which placed educated and ambitious people in settings where they could motivate and support one another. The Harlem Renaissance was a period of cultural revival for African Americans. During this period, blacks generated a sense of self-pride and identity through creative expression. Though the literary, musical, and artistic innovation was concentrated in Harlem, the passion created there spread across the United States. The art produced during the Harlem Renaissance had various themes. It ranged from the depiction of lavish urban lifestyles to simple rural landscapes; from the lighthearted daily motions of individuals to the weighty themes of slavery and cultural origins in Africa. During Harlem Renaissance there was an overt racial pride that came to be represented within cultural and creative expression. The New Negro challenged pervading racism and stereotypes through intellect, literature, art, music and theatre to promote racial and social integration. The creation of art and literature served to uplift the race and mold the image of the New Negro. The artists of the Harlem Renaissance presented bold, portraits of...
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