Romare Bearden

American, 1911–1988

A Symbolic Pageant of Afro-American History, 1972

Collage on fiberboard

6 x 26 inches

Signed lower left

Bearden and his family moved north from North Carolina around 1914. In New York the family home became a frequent meeting place for such luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance as Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and W. E. B. Dubois. From an early age Bearden was exposed to a variety of creative and cultural pursuits as well as to the importance of civic involvement and social activism.

As a mature artist, collage proved to be an excellent medium for Bearden. It allowed for incongruous pairings of images that spoke to the complexities of the African American experience and resulted in compositions with multiple layers of meaning.

A Symbolic Pageant of Afro-American History neatly condenses centuries of history onto a small panel. A photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. stands out beside the representative characters surrounding him: African Americans at work (a draftsmen, a computer technician, construction workers building a skyscraper) and a tightly packed group of African Americans protesting.  By their scale and placement in the foreground, Bearden is asserting the importance of these individuals in the Civil Rights struggle. The result of Bearden’s compilation is an affective and moving narrative.