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Activism and Abstraction: “Untitled (Alabama)” by Norman Lewis

In honor of African American History Month

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2020
  • 12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • East Building Atrium
A black and white triangle floats to our left against a black background, and a black and white strip extends from the triangle at center to our right in this abstract horizontal painting. The triangle is set so one edge is parallel to the top edge of the canvas. The neighboring edge of the triangle turns 90 degrees down to extend to and off the bottom edge of the painting. The two corners opposite the 90-degree angle seem to reach off the edges of the canvas at the bottom and left sides. This main triangle is filled with black and white curved, straight, and angled lines in shapes reminiscent of letters and symbols. Similar marks fill the narrow strip that spans the right half of the painting, connecting the triangle with the edge of the canvas. The black and white triangle and strip could be interpreted as being layered on top of a black background, though there is not a sense of space in this work. What we might see as negative space created by the black and white forms includes a black rectangle that spans the composition across the top, a triangle at the lower left, and a nearly square shape in the lower right.

Norman Lewis, Untitled (Alabama), 1967, oil on canvas, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2009.45.1

Norman Lewis’s life spanned the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and the emergence of black power and activist art. This talk will use Untitled (Alabama) to explore his turn to abstract art to express the persistence of racial inequity—and fight against it.

Jennifer Riddell, lecturer