Conjuring Bearden provided a deeper look into a central and recurring theme in the work of American artist Romare Bearden (1912-1988), one of the most respected American artists of the 20th century. This exhibition was the first to explore in Bearden’s art the theme of the “conjure” woman. Through a combination of spiritual interventions, psychology and herbalism, the “conjurer” or the Caribbean “Obeah Man” transformed the world.
This focused and thematic presentation of Bearden’s interest in African American spirituality was related to his artistic experimentations with form and technique. It traced his visual musings on African, Caribbean and African American expressive mysticism and examined his magical re-invention—via the collage and photomontage—of pictorial space and time.
The exhibition built upon the findings of The Art of Romare Bearden, a major retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art that toured nationwide. Many works in the Nasher Museum’s exhibition were on view for the first time.
Born in Mecklenburg County, N.C., Romare Bearden was a young child when his parents moved to New York City. The Bearden home became a meeting place for such Harlem Renaissance luminaries as writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas and musician Duke Ellington. Bearden’s work explores themes of black identity and culture, reflects his wide range of interests and explores overlapping themes of religion, ritual practice, everyday life, jazz clubs, history, mythology and literature.
This exhibition was organized by Richard J. Powell, Duke’s John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art , Art History & Visual Studies, and four of his undergraduate students. Powell’s many publications include Black Art: A Cultural History (Thames and Hudson, 2002). The student co-curators of the exhibition were Margaret Di Giulio, Alicia Garcia, Victoria Trout and Christine Wang.
The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Powell and other Bearden scholars.
Conjuring Bearden exhibition and related programming were possible by the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Duke University’s Office of the President and The Duke Endowment, the Provost’s Common Fund, the Duke Semans Fine Arts Foundation, the Women’s Studies Program, the Department of Art and Art History, and the African and African American Studies program. Additional funding was provided by Primus First Realty and Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. This project also received support from the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes a great nation deserves great art.
TOP: Visitors enjoy Conjuring Bearden. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.