AFRICOBRA was a socio-politically motivated art movement during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in and around Chicago. These African American artists united in an effort to affirm and uplift the black community, effecting positive change through captivating imagery and engaging, public artwork. AFRICOBRA founding members Jeff Donaldson, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams, came together in 1968 on the South Side of Chicago to kickstart this change.
“Engaging the region is an essential part of MOCA’s mission,” says MOCA Cleveland Executive Director Jill Snyder. “One of the advantages of our perspective outside the world’s major art centers is being able to curate art and experience of our particular time and place. In so doing, we encourage dialogue that connects these artists to the larger, international art world.”
In conjunction with MOCA Cleveland’s Summer 2015 Exhibitions, the museum hosts a special film screening and panel discussion at 7 p.m. this Wednesday, June 24.
AFRICOBRA: Power, Politics + Pride begins with a screening of the documentary, AFRICOBRA: Art for the People, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ideastream’s Dee Perry with Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell (two of the movement’s founders, who now reside in Cleveland), Gerald Williams (an AFRICOBRA founding member) and Carolyn Lawrence (an AFRICOBRA artist).
“It was done in a very family-like way,” says Jae Jarrell of how AFRICOBRA originated. “The love we had for one another, the respect we built for one another, the trust we had…When you put together as many as ten artists that bring their art partially done and ask each other for input? Outside of a classroom, you don’t expect that to happen. And this was true trust and true interest and love of developing a voice — signature voices. You know them when you see them. And there’s a value in that you never divorce family, and it’s always a part of you if you really buy into it. And so it’s very comfortable to exercise some of those principles in anything you do. And that’s in living as well as creating.”
A collection of Jae Jarrell’s work is featured in MOCA’s new exhibition, How to Remain Human.
“I made Urban Wall Suit in 1969,” she explains. “One of the tenets of AFRICOBRA was to reinvent yourself, reinvent how you were, reinvent your whole manner so that you had a fresh voice. I was inventing my fabric. I had made a line of silk shirts at my Jae of Hyde Park shop, so I decided to use the scraps. I put them together in large and small patches of sort of rectangular shapes and squares. I started to pay attention to the walls in our Chicago area, all of the markings on them. AFRICOBRA had made ourselves missionaries to the community; we were doing art for the community. And I saw the walls as a community message board. And I was struck with folks who tagged on the wall, and then someone might answer. I thought, ‘Wow, this is hip.’ And as I was putting together this fabric I thought, let me see if I just make bricks in it, and used velvet ribbon and made my mortar, and began to paint and write graffiti as well as incorporating the posters that you would find with announcements. That’s how I got to Urban Wall Suit, it was a voice of the community and a voice to the community.”
Learn more about Jae Jarrell and AFRICOBRA this Wednesday, June 24, at 7 p.m. AFRICOBRA: Power, Politics + Pride is free and open to the public.
(MOCA Cleveland) 11400 Euclid Ave., 216-421-8671, mocacleveland.org