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The Harlem Renaissance Part II: Meta Warrick Fuller

Updated on September 25, 2015
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The Harlem Renaissance was founded on the ideals of racial pride, social power, and the importance of African culture. African Americans were encouraged to revisit their racial heritage, resulting in African American history and culture being represented and celebrated through the arts. The entire movement “challenged the existing debased and caricaturized representations of Blacks in art”[1]

Before the movement began to take an effect, there was one particular sculptor who was well advanced beyond her other fellow artisans at the time. Meta Warrick Fuller’s vision and understanding of the black experience propelled the Harlem Renaissance forward.


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“In choosing her subject matter she looked to the songs of black Americans and to African folk tales for inspirational themes that focused on pathos and joy in the human condition. Fuller introduced America to the power of black American and African subjects long before the Harlem Renaissance was under way. Under Fuller, the aesthetics of the black visual artist seemed inextricably tied to the taste of white America; more particularly, perhaps to the subject matter and definitions of from derived from European art…Indeed, Harlem itself was never home for Meta Warrick Fuller, but the ideals of the Harlem Renaissance were hers in form and spirit”[2]

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One of Meta Warrick Fuller’s infamous pieces, Ethiopia Awakening, is said to have projected the Harlem Renaissance. The sculpture depicts an ancient black Egyptian coming back to life. Symbolically it shows a motivation to remove Africa’s identity of slavery and ignorance.[3]

Looking like an Egyptian funerary piece, the subject is a black female that has her legs wrapped together with strips of cloth, reminiscent of mummification. Her upper body is draped freely with material and she stretches upward as if she had just woken from a long sleep. Perhaps symbolizing a rebirth.[4] Krissi Oden explains further:

“The sculpture depicted a woman whose bottom portion is wrapped in mummy-typed bandages, and whose top portion is draped in ancient Egyptian apparently, complete with an Egyptian headdress. Her head is turned to her left, titled at a small angle as it to be looking at something.

Her right hand is placed on her chest, and her left arm is flush with her body. The bottom portion is rooted and stoic, whereas the top portion employs a more free flowing and emerging quality. The allusions to Egyptian and Ethiopian roots are obvious in this piece…”[5]

The statue embodied a message of hope for African Americans and signified the New Negro. Fuller wanted African Americans to be proud of their status as an independent colony and to make them aware of their ancestral roots.[6]

“In the time that Fuller created this piece, only Ethiopia of all the African nations had successfully maintained its independence against European imperialists. Fuller created this piece as a historical validation and celebration of Africans and their connections to African Americans”[7]

Ethiopia Awakening comments on the ties that African Americans have with African nations, such as Egypt and Ethiopia, and that they are not merely a product of white Americans kidnapping them from their homeland, bringing them to the United States and using them as slaves. She says to the African American people that they have a history much deeper than that and it should be noted and celebrated.

Painted Plaster
Painted Plaster | Source

The sculpture signified an emancipation of the African American culture from the white American culture. This meaning that the African American culture would define who they were without white stereotypes influencing the mutual heritage of African Americans and the relationships they with each other.

This is a theme that can also be noted Meta Warrick Fuller’s sculpture titled, Emancipation. Meta Warrick Fuller explains the meaning behind the piece:

“The Negro has been emancipated from slavery but not from the curse of race, hatred and prejudice…It was not Lincoln alone who wrote the Emancipation but the humane side of the nation…[I portrayed] Humanity weeping over her suddenly freed children, who, beneath the gnarled fingers of Fate, step forth into the world, unafraid…I represented the race by a male and female figure standing under the tree the branches of which are the fingers of Fate griping at them to draw them back into the fatal clutches of hatred, etc”[8]

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Standing at eight feet tall;

Emancipation was a truly powerful piece around which exposition goers has to circumambulate to view it in its entirety. It consisted of three upright and for the most part nude figures standing against a tree-like form. It is important, however, to mention that what clothing was there was not ripped or torn, thus alluding to the fact that there is a pride that they feel about their body – not the embarrassment or feeling of subordination that might accompany the image of ripped or torn clothing”[10]

African American leaders were driven by “the concepts of self-determination, separatism, and cultural identity” and were influenced to gain independence as well as recognition from the whites.


Artists to be Discussed within Upcoming Posts...

Citations

[1] The Harlem Renaissance, 6 March 2003 <http://cgi.umbc.edu/~insttech/arthistory/harlem/> (2 February 2013)

[2] “Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller” Office of Institutional Diversity: Bridgewater State University, 17 November 2004 <http://www.bridgew.edu/hoba/Fuller.cfm> (31 January 2013)

[3] Claudia Sutherland. “Fuller, Meta Warrick 1877-1968” The Black Past Remembered and Proclaimed, 2007-2011 <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/fuller-meta-warrick-1877-1968> (31 January 2013)

[4] George Hutchinson. "Harlem Renaissance (American Literature and Art)," Encyclopedia Britannica Online, <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/255397/Harlem-Renaissance> (31 January 2013)

[5] Krissi Oden. "Interpreting Space: Ethiopia Awakening and the Rebirth of Meta Warrick Fuller” University of Toronto Art Journal, <http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/UTAJ/article/view/6658> (31 January 2013)

[6] “Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller” Office of Institutional Diversity: Bridgewater State University, 17 November 2004 <http://www.bridgew.edu/hoba/Fuller.cfm> (31 January 2013)

[7] Claudia Sutherland. “Fuller, Meta Warrick 1877-1968” The Black Past Remembered and Proclaimed, 2007-2011 <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/fuller-meta-warrick-1877-1968> (31 January 2013)

[8] Krissi Oden. "Interpreting Space: Ethiopia Awakening and the Rebirth of Meta Warrick Fuller” University of Toronto Art Journal, <http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/UTAJ/article/view/6658> (31 January 2013)

[9] “Sculptures You Ought to Know About” The Afro American, 6 February 1932, p. 18

[10] Krissi Oden. "Interpreting Space: Ethiopia Awakening and the Rebirth of Meta Warrick Fuller” University of Toronto Art Journal, <http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/UTAJ/article/view/6658> (31 January 2013)

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