“This show is so important. I mean, it’s our history — and it’s a very important part of our journey,” Tina Knowles Lawson said about Friday night’s opening of the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963 – 1983” at the Broad Museum in DTLA. “I’m just so impressed and happy that it’s here. I wanted to see it at the Tate [Modern] when I was in London but I didn’t make it. So this is a treat to be able to come and see it tonight.”
The woman who is perhaps best known as the mother of Beyoncé and Solange reflected on the era that inspired the artwork on display. “The ‘70s,” said Lawson, who was joined inside by her son-in-law Jay-Z. “A lot of empowerment for our people. And a lot of change. You know, it came about because it had to come about — people were forced to change. It was a great movement in a time of pride, so I remember that time fondly. I know a lot things were kind of rough back then, but overall I think it was wonderful.”
Debbie Allen seconded that emotion. “I just remember James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud’ was the anthem as was Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’” she told Variety. “It was a time where we relinquished all affectations European and started to go inside and love ourselves as black people. We wore big afros, we wore Afro-centric clothing and even at Howard University, where I was a student, we demanded more education, not just the Greeks and the Italians. We wanted some theater and literature from African artists.”
Allen shared some thoughts on the inspiration — and the history — behind the art. “It came straight out of the community. It came out of grassroots. It came out of a lot of passion and pain,” she said. “When you think about the different movements in this country, you think of the abolition of slavery. And you think about the civil rights movement where we were just struggling to vote and to go to movies and restaurants and to get rid of Jim Crow. This period of time is all of that. This is like right at the edge as things were really starting to change thanks to Dr. King and Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X.”
The significance of the exhibition was not lost on Garcelle Beauvais, who was born in Haiti and is probably too young to remember much of that time period in American history, anyway. “This collection is for us — and it’s by us. I think that’s what is important,” she told Variety. “So many times we’re not highlighted the way we should be and this is going to speak to not only our generation but also the kids coming up after us. They can come and actually learn something because for them, if it’s not on Instagram, it doesn’t exist.”
Fran Drescher felt that this show was just as vital four decades later. “It was a historic period that pushed the needle significantly,” she said of the ‘70s. “But to look at it now in a climate of unrest reactivates it and makes it that much more relevant. When we have an opportunity to reflect on a period of time that was very vibrant in its challenge of the mores of the day — and very demanding of change — it’s inspiring. This is a time when I think we need to be reminded of what it’s like when complacency is awakened and people come out and challenge the status quo and are extremely vocal about those mores that compromise civil liberties and marginalize different groups of people. It’s essential to see,” she said.
“I’m so excited to see the work,” said Sherry Lansing, as if on cue, after she finished posing for photos on the red carpet. “We’ve never honored black artists like we are today and I think it’s wonderful. It’s part of our culture. And out of all the museums in LA, The Broad is quite unique,” she said while entering the lobby. “There’s something about this building — when I walk into it I feel like I’m entering a cathedral.”
Indeed, Beauvais strolled out of the exhibition looking like she had the equivalent of a religious experience. Her review? “Unbelievable. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before in my life and I’d like to think that I’m in the know,” she told Variety. “It’s just beautiful to see our faces and our stories there. I want to come back.”
Guests at the opening also included Courtney B. Vance, Loretta Devine, Justin Simien and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.