Benton, Bruce, Yale Host Black History Month Exhibits

The exhibit at the Yale School of Art's Edgewood Avenue gallery, "Black Pulp!," is lighthearted in some ways. Visitors are greeted by a screen showing the 2002 documentary "Baadasssss Cinema," which chronicles the 1970s blaxploitation genre in all its cheesy, butt-kicking glory. Those who can tear themselves away from the screen — and that is difficult, since the movie is entertaining and funny — will find a serious exploration of 20th and 21st century popular culture filtered through the lens of African-American writers, editors, artists and cartoonists.

Kerry James Marshall's "Rythm Mastr" cartoon discusses philosophical subjects in slangy language set in an all-black world, and introduces its hero: "This is how it begins, when ordinary men, women and children will no longer tolerate limited access to the exalted places once denied them. A hero emerges to lead the battles. That champion is the Rythm Mastr."

In another artwork, a beautiful black woman dressed as a superhero sits atop the Statue of Liberty. A deceptively thought-provoking work shows a happy black family sitting under a tree enjoying a typical picnic, while flamingos, gnomes and monsters surround them. Another piece shows the ace of spades, reimagined as a black woman with a sword.

Display cases in the gallery show highlights in the history of black publishing: The Black Panthers' anti-fascist magazine, the NAACP's Crisis magazine, Miguel Covarrubias' "Negro Drawings" and Fire Magazine, "devoted to younger Negro artists." Others show less successful ventures, such as Lobo comics, which featured a black hero but which quickly ceased publication primarily because many vendors refused to sell it.

The hard-hitting attacks on racism are summed up by a drawing of two kids looking at a "whites only" sign at a restaurant. One says to the other: "My daddy said they didn't seem to mind servin' him on the Anzio beach-head. But I guess they wasn't getting along so good with the Nazis then." (READ MORE)

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