Most people have heard something about the Harlem Renaissance. Maybe you've heard of one of the stars of the movement - James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston - and maybe you've read one of their works. More likely is that you're familiar with the distinctive and highly stylized artwork that's synonymous with the era. Whether the images feature dramatic silhouettes or vibrant and colorful scenes of urban life, there's always something about them that stands out and speaks to the (perceived) glamour of the time.
I adore the artwork of this cultural movement, and, when I grow up, I'd love to own a piece of art from that time. Up until recently, though, I didn't know one artist was behind many of these iconic works. That all changed when I heard about an exhibition featuring art by the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias at the California African American Museum. I was initially intrigued by the exhibitions impossibly long title - "The African Diaspora In The Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven By Color, Shaped By Cultures" - but imagine my delight upon seeing the work and discovering that Covarrubias was considered to be THE man responsible capturing the mood of one of the world's most important cultural movements!
José Miguel Covarrubias Duclaud was born in Mexico in 1904 and traveled to the United States at the age of 19 thanks to grant from the Mexican government. There, as exhibition notes from the CAAM explain:
"[..] he became friends with the intellectual elite of the Harlem Renaissance. His drawings and caricatures were featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue and Fortune magazines. In 1927 he illustrated Negro Drawings, which presented a more dignified image of African Americans to mainstream America. In the following years, Covarrubias also depicted Afro-Mexicans, Afro-Cubans and West and North Africans."
The lovely people at the California African American Museum were kind enough to give me a guided tour of the exhibition, and I learned why he felt an affinity with African Americans - and people of African Descent globally. In addition to being visually intrigued, I can't help but think of Covarrubias in terms of the ongoing interactions between black and brown people here in Los Angeles.
Watch the video to find out more, then, go and see his glorious work for yourself. The exhibition runs until February 2012.