The visual arts played a critical role in the cultural awakening that began with the Second World War and flourished in the aftermath of the Watts riots. In searching for new means of expression rooted in and relevant to the communities from which they came, black artists based in Los Angeles pushed the parameters of consciously black art by offering a fundamental reevaluation of the meaning art could have in black lives. Much like avant-garde jazz musicians, visual artists developed a unique mixed-media language that combined themes of political insurgency, communitarian engagement, and familiar cultural tropes of migration, musical, spirituality, and family. Augmented by a cross-generic engagement with sound and text, this bricolage avoided the formal limits of realist representation while producing a culturally specific aesthetics that artists could take as emblematic of the black liberation movement’s broader critique of the limits of American society for what Duke Ellington had called “the sun-tanned tenth of the nation.”

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