February 10, 2011

Exhibit features African American artists

A colorfully illustrated children's book written by Josephine Baker. Photos of dancer Pearl Primus in flight. A caricature of Chester Himes. These are just a few of the items on display in "Portrait & Text: African American Artists of Dance, Music, and the Written Word," an exhibition at the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

The exhibition, on view now through June 30 on Level 10 of Woodruff Library, is curated by Randall K. Burkett, curator of MARBL's African American collections, and Kelly Erby, a visiting lecturer at Georgia State University who recently earned her doctorate in history at Emory.

Portraits by Harlem arts patron and photographer Carl Van Vechten and from MARBL's extensive African American collection are paired with original documents from MARBL collections.

Twenty-one artists are featured, including writers Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright; entertainer Harry Belafonte, opera singer Marian Anderson, dancers Carmen de Lavallade and Pearl Primus, poet Countee Cullen, and singer/dancer Josephine Baker.

"Our goal was to use these photographs to showcase the range of MARBL's holdings in African American literature, arts, dance, and music," Burkett says.

The exhibition includes correspondence, movie house lobby cards, concert posters and programs and book inscriptions. Collaborations and friendships are apparent through letters, inscriptions in books, and other materials throughout the exhibition.

"All of these artists are interacting with one another on a whole range of political and cultural and artistic endeavors," Burkett says.

A kiosk in the exhibit allows visitors to click on an image of one of the artists, and the database will pull up every MARBL collection that contains material pertaining to that individual.

"People will not only see some original materials, but they will also be able to go to the online finding aids and see exactly what collections have what kinds of materials," Burkett says.

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  • Research in action

    Senior Garrett Turner performed an original theatrical production about Langston Hughes, based on research from MARBL materials, at the exhibition's opening reception Feb. 8. Catch a repeat performance of "I Dream A World: The Life and Work of Langston Hughes" on Feb. 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. in Harland Cinema.