Black History Month: the seven must-see art exhibitions (2024)

“Hold fast to dreams,” wrote Harlem poet Langston Hughes. “For if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

His famous words will sit alongside a great deal of impactful art this Black History Month, all through February. Alongside the more blockbuster events (Black Panther will be screened free of charge at selected theatres), expect to find a Harlem renaissance-style speakeasy, vintage photos of a black sports icon and artworks by Jimi Hendrix.

On the heels of the success of the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that just ended, here are seven must-see exhibits to catch through February.

Crusader: Martin Luther King Jr

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Classic photos of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr are everywhere, but the lesser-known, more intimate moments are scarce. Some of these rare shots are on view at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, featuring shots of his travels across the world, on view until 6 April. From his trip to India, where he learned about non-violent resistance, to his trip to Norway to accept the Nobel peace prize, this exhibit marks the 60th anniversary of the first biography written about King, Crusader Without Violence by Lawrence D Reddick in 1959.

The center is also hosting a pop-up exhibit to celebrate the 118th birthday of the Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes. The lobby will turn into a Harlem speakeasy-style salon to celebrate the works of writers such as Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Canada Lee and Hilda Simms.

Harlem Perspectives II

Harlem has always been a hub of black art and culture and remains vital to this day. A selected number of local artists working uptown are featured in Harlem Perspectives II at Faction Art Projects. Showcasing artists who live and work above 110th Street in Manhattan, there are works by Elan Cadiz, who crafts family portraits from fabrics, to marble sculptures by Kennedy Yanko. There are also abstract paintings by Patrick Alston, who lives – and finds his inspiration – in the neighborhood.

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“Harlem is an essential place for understanding the essence, resilience and brilliance of black culture,” said Alston. “Black history month is a time to reflect on the significance of black achievements and there is no better place to understand this than through the mecca of black excellence that is Harlem.”

In the Dugout with Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait of a Baseball Legend

In 1947, Jackie Robinson made history when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African American major league baseball player. Robinson’s legacy is remembered on the year of his 100th birthday at the Museum of the City of New York, which runs until 15 September. On view are rare photos of Robinson in the clubhouse with his team-mates and at home with his family. Whitney Donhauser, the director of the museum calls Robinson “a true American icon”.

“Robinson’s trailblazing years as a Brooklyn Dodger captivated the country,” she said, “and these photographs offer an intimate glimpse of a defining period in American sports history.”

Black Refractions: Highlights from the Studio Museum in Harlem

The Studio Museum in Harlem was founded in 1968 as a space for black artists to shine. Now, as the museum undergoes a renovation, slated to reopen in 2021, this touring exhibition, co-hosted by American Federation of Arts, will visit six venues across the US. It kicks off at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. As part of Harlem’s prized art collection of African American art, a number of artists are brought to the spotlight, including Faith Ringgold, Kehinde Wiley and Juliana Huxtable.

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“The exhibition will add to an expanded view of American art history,” said Pauline Willis, the director of the AFA. “Many are not fully aware of the tremendous contributions artists of the African diaspora have made to American art.”

Jeff Donaldson

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The famed AfriCOBRA art movement co-founder Jeff Donaldson takes the spotlight at Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York, showing his intricate paintings, watercolors and collages from the 1960s through the late 1990s. Some of his most iconic works will be on view, including Donaldson’s last painting, a portrait of three trombonists. A critical voice to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Donaldson created historic artworks such as Aunt Jemima and the Pillsbury Doughboy, a painting of a black woman being battered by a white police officer. Donaldson started this painting after the civil rights March on Washington in 1963. The exhibit opens 28 February.

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

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The Chicago photographer Dawoud Bey has traced the Underground Railroad path to freedom in his latest exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Night Coming Tenderly, Black is a series of black-and-white photos that follows the fugitive pathways from the south to Canada, which helped enslaved African Americans to freedom in the 19th century. “All across the globe, people are moving across the landscape in pursuit of freedom, an opportunity to live their lives in freedom,” said Bey. “Their flight is as imperative as the flight of those enslaved and seeking their freedom during the antebellum era of the Underground Railroad.”

Bold As Love: Jimi Hendrix at Home

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Photos of the psychedelic rock star at home in the 1960s are on at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, which was Jimi Hendrix’s hometown. A number of rare family photos are shown alongside artworks made by Hendrix and his personal artifacts, offering a window into his inner world.

“There is always a need to document, support, elevate and recognize the contribution of African and African Americans to provide visibility, agency and a collective voice for a culture,” said Hasaan Kirkland, the museum’s curator. “It’s a culture that does not always receive national, regional or local acknowledgement that leads to an outward societal measure of respect and revered significance of worth, purpose and magnitude in this society.”

Black History Month: the seven must-see art exhibitions (2024)


What do you see in an art exhibition? ›

Generally, art exhibitions are filled with tangible artistic displays like paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, performances and videos.

What are some facts about Black History Month for February 7th? ›

On Feb. 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson initiated the first celebration of Negro History Week which led to Black History Month, to extend and deepen the study and scholarship on African American history, all year long.

Why is art important in black history? ›

The impact of African American art is vast and important to capturing the culture, history and legacy of African Americans. It serves as a powerful tool for storytelling, shedding light on the struggles, triumphs and resilience of the African American community.

What do you know about the formation of Black History Month How and why did the celebration begin? ›

Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, when he called upon the country to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

What is the main point of exhibition? ›

The importance of exhibitions allows you to reach a larger audience and promote your product or service. Depending on the industry, exhibitors can hold exhibitions to gather business feedback before introducing their products to the public.

What are 3 benefits of art exhibition? ›

The benefits of attending an art exhibition include collaboration, motivation, understanding, partnerships, and learning opportunities for students. Attending an art exhibition provides an opportunity for participants to feel seen and heard, learn about the program, and receive support and appreciation for their art.

Why is February called Black History Month? ›

Why is Black History Month in February? Woodson chose February for Negro History Week because it had the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, and Douglass, a former slave who did not know his exact birthday, celebrated his on Feb.

Why is February named Black History Month? ›

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively.

Who pushed for Black History Month? ›

Carter G. Woodson was a scholar whose dedication to celebrating the historic contributions of Black people led to the establishment of Black History Month, marked every February since 1976.

What is the Black History Month arts and culture? ›

Each year, Black History Month brings another opportunity to discover contributions that enrich our nation. The 2024 theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” explores the creativity, resilience and innovation from a culture that has uplifted spirits and soothed souls in countless ways across centuries.

What is black history art? ›

“African American art is infused with African, Caribbean, and the Black American lived experiences. In the fields of visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression, the African American influence has been paramount.

What is the most important fact about African art? ›

Historical African art pieces are often products of religious symbolism, functionalism, and utilitarianism, meaning that many of these art pieces were primarily created for spiritual rather than creative or aesthetic purposes.

What Black History Month means to me? ›

It means celebrating and honoring the legacy these leaders have laid for future generations to follow. It means supporting the advancement of the Black community amidst the racial injustices that continue to happen throughout the U.S. today.

What is the main reason of Black History Month? ›

Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today.

What is the 2024 theme for Black History Month? ›

2024 | African Americans and the Arts

The theme for Black History Month 2024 focuses on “African Americans and the Arts”.

What could you see in the Great exhibition? ›

A showcase for “every conceivable invention” From folding pianos, and controversial, semi-nude Greek statues to the largest diamond in the world, The Great Exhibition of 1851 was unlike anything that had been seen before.

What are the parts of an art exhibit? ›

An exhibit unit is made up of one or more of the following components: (1) exhibit objects; (2) com- munication (presentation) media; and (3) text in- formation to be communicated (involving the use of language). Does an exhibit unit have to include all three of these components?

What makes an art exhibition good? ›

Interactive Elements: Great exhibitions often incorporate interactive elements that invite visitors to actively participate and engage with the art. Touch screens, audio guides, or hands-on activities can make the exhibition more immersive and educational.

What does pictures at an exhibition describe? ›

Pictures at an Exhibition is a musical description of an exhibition of pictures by the painter Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann was only 39 when he died in 1873. He and Mussorgsky had been good friends.

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