This article examines AfriCOBRA cofounder Jeff Donaldson’s painting Ala Shango (1969) in relation to the 1968 Chicago riots and the militaristic and Pan-Africanist rhetoric of the Black Nationalist movement. Specifically, I discuss the artist’s appropriation and incorporation of a double-headed axe of Shango, the Yoruba god of fire, lightning, and thunder. The axe, wielded by the composition’s central figure, shatters the pictorial plane of the canvas, which Donaldson variously labeled Glass, Sheet, and Made in USA. I argue that, through his appropriation of African art, as well as in his channeling and innovating upon iconographic references to the riot—namely, the initial shattering of glass that directly precedes looting—Donaldson articulates an abstracted blackness where black identity, internationally, is always vulnerable to violence and requires an armed response, regardless of geographic locale.
Research Article| May 01 2015
Vulnerable to Violence: Jeff Donaldson’s Ala Shango and the Erasure of Diasporic Difference
Nicholas Miller is a PhD candidate in the art history department at Northwestern University. He is currently completing his dissertation, titled Primitive Encounters? African American Painting, Diasporic Objects, and the Making of Modern Art, 1927–1977.
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Nka (2015) 2015 (36): 40–47.
Nicholas Miller; Vulnerable to Violence: Jeff Donaldson’s Ala Shango and the Erasure of Diasporic Difference. Nka 1 May 2015; 2015 (36): 40–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-2914306
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