By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
Zachary Montgomery, a Birmingham resident who recently moved to the Highland Park area, heard about iconic artist Jacob Lawrence through visiting museums and reading magazines, but didn’t know a lot about his paintings or what he stood for.
He got a chance to learned more about one of America’s most renowned modernist painters in a new exhibit — “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” which opened last month at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) and shines a light on one of America’s most renowned modernist painters.
The captivating “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle ”collection features Lawrence’s multi-paneled series, which was painted between 1954 and 1956 and presents his reinterpretation and reimagining of key moments from American history in a way that highlights the often-overlooked contributions of people of color and women.
“History in textbooks tends to be whitewashed, so [the Lawrence exhibit] really brings out a different side of history that we don’t get to see,” said Montgomery, after leaving the exhibit. “It’s a good reminder of the contributions people made to get us where we are today.”
A number of visitors to the exhibit were awestruck by Lawrence’s visual and historic attention to detail and consider it a must for those interested in history and are looking for a fun, social distancing-friendly activity.
Juitavius Daniels, a resident of North Birmingham, said he was downtown and decided that he wanted to look at art. “I really enjoyed the exhibit,” he said. “I especially liked the panel about the Preamble [of the Constitution] and how it related to the struggles of creating America today.” Daniels added that the exhibit served as a refresher on American history. “It really went more in depth with what I learned at school.”
Darryl Elliott, an Alabaster resident, visited the exhibit after looking for social distancing activities in the city. “I think it’s really interesting, the display of the colors and the contrast, especially how the blood contrasts with the darker colors.” Many of the battle-themed paintings are “symbolic and shows the struggle and pain that our country has gone through,” Elliott said. “We owe a lot to people in the past, it’s very moving. I think I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how violent some parts of our history were. Being able to visualize it helps you appreciate the struggle.”
Jane Reed-Ross, a Homewood resident, is a history buff and said she had to see the exhibit. “I also saw some of his images [before seeing the exhibit] and I just love the colors and shapes. I love the angularity in his paintings, it has such great movement.”
Lawrence was well-versed in cubism, a style of art that uses blocky shapes, and he often paired the sharp angles with bold colors. “His work is complicated. It makes you wonder: if our Founding Fathers had made different rules, could we have avoided the civil war? Could we have avoided slavery and all the damage it has done over the years? We can always revisit history and improve, and he certainly portrays that in his paintings. It’s very moving,” Reed-Ross said.
Bailey Reese, a Tuscaloosa resident, said it was amazing to see Lawrence’s historical perspectives in his paintings, “from people of color, from Native Americans and from women on historical events where [history] was pretty much written by white men,” she said. “I thought it was phenomenal, it was beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and I felt I learned a lot about something that I thought I had already knew about.”
“Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” will be on display in the museum’s Jemison Galleries through Feb. 7, 2021. For more information, visit artsbma.org.