Lavender and gold silhouettes of soldiers on horseback, waves, and a kneeling figure overlap on the flat plane of Aaron Douglas’s “Let My People Go” (1935–39). The Harlem Renaissance artist’s interpretation of the biblical Moses’s plea to the Pharaoh to free his people mixes modernism with African art history through its two-dimensional perspective, angular shapes, and unexpected colors. The painting was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2014, and recently went on view in the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.
Randy Kennedy noted in the New York Times that Douglas “is an almost Vermeer-like figure, whose shadowy, graphically powerful depictions of African-American themes appear so rarely on the market that when canvases surface, curators pounce.” At the same time that the Met acquired “Let My People Go,” the National Gallery of Art purchased “The Judgment Day” (1939) by Douglas from the same private collector. (The National Gallery of Art painting is also now on view.) Both paintings are part of a series of eight, created after Douglas’s designs for James Weldon Johnson’s book God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927).
The Kansas-born Douglas was a major Harlem Renaissance artist and illustrator during his time in New York, and the Met has prominently installed “Let My People Go” right at the entrance of the galleries. The muted colors encourage a closer look at the overlaying shapes that poise the pharaoh’s soldiers against the wrath of nature unbridled, with waves crashing and lightning cracking in the sky, a reminder of the freedom Moses, portrayed as a black man caught in a beam of light, demands. Like his mural work, which can be seen at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan and at Fisk University in Nashville, where Douglas was a professor for over two decades, the energy of the scene reflects both the Jazz Age and the artist’s appreciation for the visual culture of Africa, particularly the flat perspectives of Egyptian art.
“Let My People Go” was recently featured on MetCollects, the museum’s series on new acquisitions. David C. Driskell, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park, says in the Met video, embedded below, that Douglas “was doing something which was twofold: he was looking at biblical history, but he was also looking at the social plight that African Americans were under the rule of the pharaoh, so to speak. Stylistically he was able to express his own notion of modernism, simplifying the forms, so even a child would understand what he was portraying.” In his unique melding of international influences, Douglas made a powerful statement referencing slavery’s past, while looking forward from the 1930s to freedoms still in need of release.
“Let My People Go” by Aaron Douglas is on view in the modern and contemporary art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan). Learn more about the painting at MetCollects.
Some have compared her album art to John Collier’s 19th-century portrait of Lady Godiva, but Beyoncé can channel her radical spirit without evoking Western art history.
With a fresh Ethereum wallet ready to scoop up freebies, I attended the world’s largest conference dedicated to that controversial wart on the Zeitgeist, the “non-fungible token.”
International audiences have free access to the media collections of MMCA Korea, Sharjah Art Foundation, and ArkDes through this subscription-based art streaming platform.
Hundreds of copies of the LA-based guerrilla poster artist Robbie Conal’s latest work, “Supreme Injustices,” were pasted up from Venice to Los Feliz.
This week, another reason to leave Facebook, who really invented democracy, and what is “Skimpflation”?
Convened by Erika Sprey, Lamin Fofana, Sky Hopinka, Emmy Catedral, and Manuela Moscoso, the public program unfolds this summer at CARA in New York City.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month, including Pope.L, Beatriz Cortez, Mika Rottenberg, and more.
The acclaimed composer and noise artist talks to Hyperallergic about his Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Voiceless Mass.”
The Bay Area art book fair is back this July with free programming at three different on-site venues, new exhibitors, and fundraising editions from renowned artists.
Her works, depicting objects from Korean markets, invite viewers to marvel at what can be achieved with fabric.
Salonen’s paintings point to a location in which reality is slippery, ill-defined — a dream or place of play.
The Ancient Egyptian tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, one of the most intricate in the Saqqara necropolis, shows the pair holding hands and embracing.