Chrysler Museum receives $225K to explore Black artist’s work in post-independence Nigeria

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Next year, a unique exhibition by Jacob Lawrence, one of the century’s most celebrated African American artists, will debut in Norfolk, thanks, in part, to financial support by national organizations.

The Chrysler Museum of Art recently received $225,000 in grants for the show, “Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence & the Mbari Club,” which will open in fall 2022 and will travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio in 2023, the Chrysler stated in a news release. The museum received $100,000 from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, $100,000 from the Getty Foundation and $25,000 from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

The show is co-curated by Kimberli Gant, the Chrysler Museum of Art’s McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art, and Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African art.

The exhibition will include 139 works, including paintings, lithographs, woodblock prints and pieces by artists featured in the Mbari arts and culture magazine “Black Orpheus.”

The magazine came to fruition in 1957 under two Nigeria-based German scholars specializing in African literature and art, Ulli Beier and Janheiz Jahn. They later started a small publishing arm that produced books about contemporary African writing.

In 1961, the Mbari Artists & Writers Club was founded, made up of artists, dramatists and writers such as Ezekiel Mphahlele, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. The group organized art exhibitions, theatrical performances and creative dialogues, and several artists, including Lawrence, had their first exhibitions there.

In 1964, Lawrence and his wife spent nearly a year in Nigeria, creating paintings and drawings of Lagos and Ibadan marketplaces.

The Chrysler’s show will explore the connection between Lawrence and West African-based artists at a time when social and political activism were on the rise, specifically after Nigeria earned Independence from Britain on Oct. 1, 1960. It includes 25 original letters, issues of “Black Orpheus,” two archival videos featuring Mbari Club artists and paintings, sculptures, reliefs and textiles. The show opens on Oct. 7, 2022, the 65th anniversary of the launch of “Black Orpheus,” and the 60th anniversary of Lawrence’s first exhibition in Nigeria.

Chrysler Museum of Art’s director, Erik Neil, said the show is “ambitious” and will help visitors better understand Lawrence and introduce them to artists who may not be as well-known in the U.S.

Gant said the exhibition will examine artistic shifts in Nigeria during its first decade of independence.

“The project will explore the importance of international exchange between African American and African artists, an area that also needs further research,” Gant said in the release. “We are grateful to receive such generous support for this exhibition.”

Saleen Martin, 757-446-2027,