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Negro Masks

Malvin Gray Johnson American

Not on view

Stewarded by the Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to "creating a wider interest in the work of the Negro artist as a contribution to American culture," the painter Malvin Gray Johnson was praised for his thoughtful and bold treatment of African-American life. His work embraced principles learned from observing modern European masters, reducing objects to simple geometric forms. He applied these precepts to African-American subjects, such as Harlem street scenes, and to images inspired by Negro spirituals.
In the early 1930s, Johnson used works from the Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection as motifs in his painting Negro Masks. Pictured are the Yoruba Gelede helmet-mask from Nigeria and Bwa mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo included in the exhibiton, arranged over a graphic Kuba textile. While these masks might have been intended for the art market from their inception, for the artist they embodied a meaningful and powerful image of Africa.

Negro Masks, Malvin Gray Johnson (American, 1896–1934), Oil on canvas

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