Yale School of Art exhibit explores the ‘pulp’ challenge to racial injustice

Photos: Images from "Black Pulp!' exhibit

This is the dust jacket for the 1931 first-edition of “Women Builders” by Sadie Iola Daniels, which features biographies of seven black women who founded schools and other institutions that served the black community. The cover illustration was by Lois Mailou Jones.
Fire!! was a literary magazine published during the Harlem Renaissance devoted to visual and literary arts. It featured work by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Gwendolyn Bennett, among others. The magazine ceased publication after its first edition.
The narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” is the son of a white southern gentleman and a black seamstress. His various experiences, including witnessing a lynching, that persuade him to pass as a white man.
Artist Renée Cox appears as the super hero Rajé in her 1998 photograph, “Chillin’ with Liberty.”
Published in 1929, “The Blacker the Berry” by Wallace Thurman explores colorism and racial prejudice within the black community, where light skin was often considered more desirable than darker skin, especially for women.
This poster by Elton Fax advertising an NAACP “Wartime Conference” held in Chicago in 1944 links America’s Jim Crow policies to the fascist regimes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
“Lock and Key (State I)” by Robert Colescott, 1989.
Lobo was the first mainstream comic book to feature a black main character. A former cavalry trooper, Lobo was a gunslinger who left a gold coin imprinted with an image of a wolf and the letter “L” on the foreheads of vanquished foes. Only two issues were produced.
This cartoon by Oliver Harrington ’40 B.A. shows two black children outside a segregated restaurant. The caption reads, “My Daddy said they didn't seem to mind servin' him on the Anzio beach-head. But I guess they wasn't gettin' along so good with them Nazis then!" reads, “My Daddy said they didn't seem to mind servin' him on the Anzio beach-head. But I guess they wasn't gettin' along so good with them Nazis then!"
The Torchy in Heartbeats comic strip was created in 1950 by Jackie Ormes, the first African American cartoonist to have a syndicated comic strip in the United States. An intelligent and confident woman, Torchy provided a contrast to stereotypical portrayals of black women.
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A new exhibition at the Yale School of Art (YSA) explores the creative use of printed media and artwork to challenge racist narratives and change limited notions of black experience in America.

“Black Pulp!” features 65 objects, including rare magazines, literary journals, novels, cartoons, and comics, as well as contemporary art from the Black Diaspora. It tells a story of black and non-black artists and publishers working together over 90 years to draw attention to the black experience, rebuff Jim Crow politics, and refute racist caricatures.

The exhibition — curated by artist William Villalongo, a lecturer at YSA, and YSA alumnus Mark Thomas Gibson, ’13 M.F.A. — will be on view Jan. 19–March 11 at the YSA’s 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery in New Haven. It is free and open to the public from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

“The pulp attitude is to take the tragic and painful points of history, like Jim Crow and the Vietnam War, and challenge them through biting humor, satire, and wit,” says Villalongo. “Many works on view offer up windows into the darker, erotic, satirical, and more absurd recesses of the black popular imagination, while underscoring important debates around personhood and identity.”

The exhibition features influential Harlem Renaissance-era periodicals, such as The Crisisand Opportunity magazines, and rare art journals, such as Fire!! and Ebony & Topaz. It includes contributions from Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Library, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Library of Congress, and Yale University Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes works by many renowned artists and illustrators such as Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Jones, Laura Wheeler, E. Simms Campbell, Eleanor Paul, Gwendolyn Bennett, Miguel Covarrubias, Winold Reiss, Charles Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, Owen Middleton, Elton Fax, Ollie Harrington, Billy Graham, Charles White, Emory Douglas, Jackie Ormes, and Jacob Lawrence. Rare comics such as Lobo #1, Negro Romance, and others will be on view.

“The contemporary artworks displayed offer critical rebuttals to a history of derogatory images of the black body, questioning this history through fiction, irony, humor, and strategic appropriation,” says Gibson.

Contemporary artists represented include Derrick Adams, Laylah Ali, Firelei Baez, Nayland Blake, Robert Colescott, Renee Cox, William Downs, Ellen Gallagher, Deborah Grant, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Lucia Hierro, Isaac Julien, William Pope L., Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Lamar Peterson, Kenny Rivero, Alexandria Smith, Felandus Thames, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, and Fred Wilson.

A public reception will take place on Thursday, Jan. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the 32 Edgewood Gallery. 

For more information on the exhibition or visiting 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery, contact the Yale School of Art at 203-432-2600 or send email to artschool.info@yale.edu.