MOCA Exhibit Celebrates Chicago's AFRICOBRA Black Artist Collective

Feb 5, 2019

During the civil rights era of the 1960s and 70s, a group of black artists in Chicago created vibrant and provocative art as a powerful form of peaceful protest. 

AFRICOBRA, which stands for “The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists," used the aesthetic of black art and imaging to fight the the media's perception of their own communities. Now, the collective's work is being displayed in Miami as part of North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art Black History Month programming.

The exhibition, “AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People,” is celebrating the contributions of the black artist collective with a series of events and panels. Amanda Covach, the new Director of Educational Programming at the museum, joined Sundial to talk about some of the artwork and how these artists defined the black visual art aesthetic.

This has been edited lightly for clarity.

WLRN: How would you define AFRICOBRA?

COVACH: The nature of [the collective's] work incorporates all these colors called kool-aid colors, five core philosophical elements and a commitment of humanism inspired by African people.

Tell us briefly about the lead artist, Jeff Donaldson? What did he want to do with this [art]?

From what I've read and heard about Jeff Donaldson, he was a man who could walk in and change the atmosphere of a room. This group was founded in 1968, which was the same year as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was when the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War and what he and the original founders were focused on was creating a positive image of the African American community and creating this strength and exhibiting this outward positivity to combat the negative light which the media was placing upon protesters and the Black Panther movement.

One of the initial striking parts of the exhibition is the use of bright, eccentric colors. They referred to them as Kool-Aid Colors. Amanda how do you describe that?

It's these bright, vibrant colors. It's very clear that each artist is an individual the way the colors weave through and the way they just pop and they shine, it's really what's so attractive about the work and what helps the work communicate something fun and inspiring. And the kool-aid colors are bright, vibrant and positive.

It's important to note how much of the art collective's work focused on giving back to the communities they came from. What did you learn about the artist collective's relationship with the community? Why it was so important?

Well you know it was a real privilege to get to speak to [the exhibit's curator Jeffreen M. Hayes] because I know as a white-passing, queer Latina I was not coming from a point of knowledge or point of understanding whereas Dr. Jeffrey Hayes really exemplified and was able to tie everything into Miami. She was able to talk about the freedom wall, talk about these positive messages that they were sending out, talk about their screen printing and how they made images that they screen printed accessible. And that went back to their modes of expression and how that tied back to what was happening here in Miami. And she was the one who made that connection and I was just kind of mind blown how all of these things looped together.