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In the mid-1930s, painter Norman Lewis was fully enmeshed in the question of what it meant to be an artist, a member of the Harlem community, and an heir to what Alain Locke had famously termed “the ancestral legacy” that African art had bequeathed to her descendants in the diaspora. In this context of radical, modernist New Negro artistic foment, Lewis's engagement with the bold physicality of a Dan mask reveals the challenges that Black modernists of his generation faced when it came to choosing subject matter and employing formal strategies.

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