The word négritude literally translates to Negro-ness and articulates the aesthetic commonalities found throughout the arts, cultures, and social practices of people of African origin. Négritude was also the name given to the 1930s literary movement launched by Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon Damas—all French speaking poets, and politicians. Born in French colonies across the globe during the height of European imperialism–Césaire (Martinique), Senghor (Senegal) and Damas (French Guiana) were also referred to as The Three Fathers of Négritude. They endeavored to use the historical, cultural, and social aspects common to individuals of the African diaspora as a means of combating racism and colonialism.
Négritude was heavily influenced by the Harlem Renaissance spokesman Alain LeRoy Locke (philosopher, writer, educator and promoter of the arts). Locke positioned himself at the vanguard of the New Negro Movement and cultivated its philosophies. In his essay The New Negro Locke states:
“Here in Manhattan is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life. It has attracted the African, the West Indian, the Negro American; has brought together the Negro of the North and the Negro of the South; the man from the city and the man from the town and village; the peasant, the student, the business man, the professional man, artist, poet, musician, adventurer and worker, preacher and criminal, explorer and social outcast. Each group has come with its own separate motives and for its own special ends, but their greatest experience has been the finding of one another.”
This amassing of people of African descent from abroad in one place—Harlem—during the renaissance exemplified the concept of négritude. As well, the cultural explosion that resulted gave the Africans in America control of their own image for the first time in American history, which dispelled the ubiquitous stereotyped images of the mammy and the coon. Such adoration of black culture also helped to internationalize efforts to solve the “Negro problem,” which coincided with the ideas of Marcus Garvey. According to Locke this “internationalism is primarily an effort to recapture contact with scattered peoples of African derivation.” In sync with The Three Fathers of Négritude, Locke believed there was much to be gained socially by internationalizing the arts.
Cesar created the word négritude while he and his colleagues were trying to figure out what connected individuals of African descent to one another. After entertaining ideas of race and oppression, they realized that such a connection derived from something much greater that flowed through their culture, their communities, and the way people of the African Diaspora interacted with one another—the essence of Négritude. Through this inquiry, I have witnessed the depth of the word and its significance within my own life.
With great honor and esteem I accepted Ms. Tina Dunkley’s invitation to curate an exhibition on the concept. It brings me chills to think of how running across this peculiar word in Frantz Fanon’s book Black Skin White Mask turned into an art exhibition curated by yours truly. The show, simply titled Négritude examines the reality of négritude as it is revealed in traditional African artifacts and contemporary works, all drawn from the Clark Atlanta University Art Collection. Works such as Wilmer Jennings’ Still Life with the Fang figure and Sheila Pree Bright’s portrait of Candice, Age 11 accessorized in African-like fabric embody négritude as an aesthetic. Other works depict sites, persons, and key moments in world history that led to the movement and examples of its philosophies.
Négritude will be on display in the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries through spring 2015. The CAU Art Galleries is on the second floor of Trevor Arnett Hall on Clark Atlanta University’s campus, located on 223 James P. Brwaley Dr. SW Atlanta, GA 30314. Hours of operation are 11am-4pm Tuesday through Friday.
Faron Manuel is currently a student at Clark Atlanta University in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. He will graduate in Spring 2015 with a degree in history, and is currently serving as the Undergraduate President of the Student Government Association. Prior to becoming an SGA officer he worked as a Docent and Student Assistant in the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, where he earned both UNCF, and Andrew Mellon Fellowships for the Arts. He is the winner of the 2014 Center for Community Change Be the Change essay contest, for The Nation Magazine. As well as a student ambassador for BET News's "What's At Stake".