Allan de Souza’s Panel 61

The story of migration is ongoing. In the final, 60th panel of The Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence leaves us with the words “And the migrants keep coming.” The Phillips has invited contemporary artists to continue Jacob Lawrence’s work. Check the recently launched Jacob Lawrence website for additional works to be unveiled in this dynamic curated selection, or contribute your own #Panel61.

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Allan deSouza, Entry (from The World Series), 2011. Digital print, 12 x 16 in.

Allan deSouza, Entry (from The World Series)

The artist’s multimedia work explores the relationship between individual experience and historical and ideological constructs. In his Intersections installation for the Phillips in 2011, The World Series, deSouza responded to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series with 30 photographs taken on his travels around the world that capture the condition of people on the move.

The Sweet Scent of Magnolia

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Whitfield Lovell, Kin VII (Scent of Magnolia), 2008. Conté on paper,silk flower wreath, 30 x 22 ½ x 3 in. Collection of Julia J. Norrell © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

The subtitle of Whitfield Lovell‘s Kin VII draws an immediate connection to “Strange Fruit,” a protest poem about lynching made famous by singer Billie Holiday in 1939. The startling pairing of a male figure with a red and pink bouquet of silk flowers is reminiscent of the song’s ironic contrast of the sweet scent of magnolias with the smell of burnin’ flesh. And yet, as with all his work, the artist seeks to open up many possible meanings depending on the perspective of the viewer.

As scholar Kevin Quashie has written, “Are these flowers from his room, a private and unusual explosion of color? The flowers he gave to a date or the ones he brought to a funeral? A sign of his desire to visit all the world’s spectacular gardens? . . . [Or] a more ominous reading—his killed body marked by a wreath . . . we can wonder if he loved pink and purple tones, without ignoring the possibility of racist violence. Whatever the story, the flowers are a surprise that interrupt the dominant narratives that might be ascribed to the profile of a black man of that age.”

Strange Fruit
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
–original poem by Abel Meeropol, 1937

Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works is on view through Jan. 8, 2017.

“In the North they had the freedom to vote.”

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Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 59: In the North they had the freedom to vote., 1940–41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942 © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series resonates today in many ways, but this Election Day it seems especially fitting to highlight Panel no. 59, whose caption reads: “In the North they had the freedom to vote.” Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, puts it well in her oral history recorded in 2015:

“I think as with a lot of great art [The Migration Series] will always have meaning. It will have meaning because it speaks to the human spirit, to human aspirations, to courage, to fear, to love, to family. But this specifically because people will always be on the move, people will always be looking for something better, and that will mean that his work will never lose its resonance for generations to come.”

See the full video and learn more about all 60 panels of The Migration Series here.