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AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) is an African American artist collective formed in Chicago in 1968. The five founding members of the group were Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams. Other early members who joined in the late 1960s and 1970s included Nelson Stevens, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Carolyn Lawrence, Frank Smith and James Phillips.
Some of AfriCOBRA's founding members had been associated with a multi-disciplinary Chicago association called OBAC (Organization of Black American Cutlure) that formed in the early 1960s and produced culturally-specific, pro-Black literature and visual arts. OBAC was most famous for creating the 1967 urban mural entitled the "Wall of Respect" on Chicago's South Side. AfriCOBRA members Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Carolyn Lawrence were among a larger group of visual artists who contributed to the "Wall of Respect" project prior to the founding of AfriCOBRA.
Goals of the AfriCOBRA movement
AfriCOBRA artists were associated with the Black Arts Movement in America, a movement that began in the mid-1960s and that celebrated culturally-specific expressions of the contemporary Black community in the realms of literature, theater, dance and the visual arts.
Beginning in 1968, AfriCOBRA members met regularly on the South Side of Chicago at the home and studio of Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell where they discussed ways that their art could embody a "Black aesthetic," and how their art could be placed in service of Black liberation movements.
In an interview celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Teresa A. Carbone (the Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum) stated, "It's difficult to draw a one-to-one correspondence between a work and an immediate social effect, but graphics from the Chicago artist collective AfriCOBRA, [African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists] really did help reshape the mindset of black communities."
When the group originally formed in 1968, they called themselves the Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists (COBRA). By early 1970, as the group prepared for its first major exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, they were calling themselves the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA). The final name pulled sought to create a larger sense of community positing that art-making has a collective nature. The creators wanted the works to be accessible, so they made poster art that was designed for mass production.
AfriCOBRA, worked to make African-American art a community effort. Much of the visual aesthetic of these works are focused on social, political, and economical conditions related to Black Americans. They created a manifesto entitled, "Ten in Search of a Nation" in 1969.
One of the most notable works was the commemoration of black revolutionaries in the Wall of Respect that was painted by the members of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Gerald Williams, and Barbara Jones-Hogu were members originally who later on formed AfriCOBRA, as well as Sylvia Abernathy, Myrna Weaver and others. This wall also became was Barbara Jones-Hogu writes as, "...a visual symbol of Black nationalism and liberation."
AfriCOBRA was more than a collection of artists; it was a passionate call for freedom founded on a set of philosophical and aesthetic principles. In the struggle for liberation and equality within the African-American community, AfriCOBRA represented these principles through the medium of art.
Barbara Jones-Hogu characterized the artistic expression of the AfriCOBRA movement by saying: “[Our art] must communicate to its viewer a statement of truth, of action, of education, of conditions and a state of being to our people. We wanted to speak to them and for them, by having our common thoughts, feelings, trials and tribulations express our total existence as a people.”
- "AFRICOBRA: Philosophy". arts.uchicago.edu. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
- Lusenhop, David (2015). Jae Jarrell and the Fashioning of Black Culture. Cleveland: Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. p. 70.
- "Art and Protest". Art in America. March 2014.
- "AFRICOBRA NOW!". International Review of African American Art. 2007.
- Donaldson, Jeff (2012). "AfriCOBRA Manifesto? "Ten in Search of a Nation"". Nka.
- Farrington, Lisa (2005). Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-19-976760-1.