Woodard Discusses Arts in the Black Power Movement

Black Power

Sarah Lawrence College professor Komozi Woodard detailed the evolution of two black power-focused movements that began in the 1960s in his talk “Black Arts and the Black Power Movement” on Wednesday.

Woodard began the talk by speaking about paradigm changes, which were both what the Black Arts Movement tried to effect and what it tried to fight against. Speaking about the context of the movement, Woodard lamented the cultural erasure that has occured due to the Marxist associations that many prominent artists in the movement had. Many of these artists were metaphorically buried because of the paranoia of the ongoing Cold War at the time. In addition, black culture was deemed by the old paradigm as a culture of poverty, in spite of a wealth of black artists who were ready and willing to express themselves.  

Black female artists, especially, have been underrepresented by society and remain unseen, even today. Woodard, however, stressed the importance of females in the movement and how their participation was essential to the significance and power of the movement. Woodard showed a section of a film about Sonia Sanchez, an architect of the Black Arts Movement and a famous poet, who at first had a militant, aggressive attitude towards racial issues, but later shifted to a narrative of peace. The modern trends of hip-hop music—those that have become part of mainstream pop culture—could not have existed without the support of pioneers such as Sanchez and other members of the Black Arts Movement.

Woodard also confronted some of the problems with the modern perceptions of the Black Arts Movement. Many people believe the fundamental doctrine of the Black Arts Movement is “black is beautiful.” Woodard points out, however, that the Black Arts Movement also confronts what is ugly in black culture. Poets and artists not only celebrate their culture, but also expose the problems within it.

The Black Arts Movement also helped organize black communities, coordinating park spaces and providing education to children. Woodard spoke about experiences in New York where black artists started multicultural art movements in the Lower East Side. Speaking about how the arts movement was never always only about black people, Woodard talked about how Amiri Baraka, a founding member of the Black Arts Movement, also helped with a Puerto Rican arts movement in New York.

In his lecture, Woodard offered deep insights into the Black Arts Movement, especially the people who were buried by the culture at the time. Speaking about changing the norms, the Black Arts Movement has certainly influenced current culture, and its effects are still felt to this day.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri