Jeff Donaldson: Dig, the artist’s first museum retrospective, explores Donaldson’s four-decade career. Spanning his activist roots in Chicago to his influence on future generations of artists as a professor at Howard University and vice president of the Barnes Foundation, this major exhibition presents new scholarship and features works never before publicly presented. In 1968, Donaldson, along with Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams, founded the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA). Formed in Chicago’s South Side, AfriCOBRA was born in an era of political and social unrest and in an art world that privileged white artists and audiences. AfriCOBRA sought to create a new kind of art that was not only politically engaged but reflected contemporary black culture and appealed specifically to a black audience. Donaldson’s work across the decades combines energetic colors, intricate patterns and African iconography to celebrate the history of African art and the roots of black culture. Featuring paintings, prints and mixed media works, Dig reflects on Donaldson’s deep belief in the responsibility of an artist to create work that is both socially relevant and visually striking. The exhibition features iconic examples of Donaldson’s early work known for its high energy “coolade” palette. For the first time, these early examples are shown alongside Donaldson’s later, lesser known works from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, demonstrating the artist’s lifelong commitment to making, as he often described, “art for the people, not for critics.”
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