Perspectives/Commentaries on AfriCOBRA by Larry Neal

One of the most enduring and significant manifestations of the Black Arts Movement of the sixties was the creation of AfriCOBRA with its compelling ideology. This artistic ideology springs from the ethos of African American and  Pan-African spiritual and political culture. This aesthetic ideology seeks to impose a new visual reality on the world; and in the process move the audience to a more profound realization of its inner possibilities.

Art/image making, is fundamentally the working out of the mysteries that undergird human experience. The icon, or image, represents the symbolic identity of both the artists and the audience to which the work is addressed in the case of the wonderous and awesome images of Africobra, we are speaking of images that when juxtaposed together represent the visual narrative of a Nation asserting its artistic consciousness.

Here we enter a world where the connection between music and color become vividly manifested. Further, we must note these artists are attempting to stretch and extend their use of colors across the full range of the spectrum much like Coltrane attempting to squeeze a multiplicity of tonal patterns and textures out of every note played on the saxophone.

In both contexts (image making and sound making), colors and notes are essentially units of energy. The aesthetic ground for this approach to making art seems to be rooted in the rhythmic values of African aesthetics, what Leopold Senghor called the "vibratory shock."

These artists, many of them trained in the techniques and procedures of Western art, have turned these very same technical procedures towards the elucidation and expression of a unique and varied African American attitude towards the business of making images. They present to us an iconography bestowed on them by the pressing and always exciting culture of the African American. In this sense, we could call them the "visual griots" of the African American community.

The Africobra was formed in Chicago in 1968, "the year of consciousness." The movement announced itself as the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA). In this aesthetic vocabulary, the term ''bad" means boid; ''bad" means aesthetic integrity, artistic and social commitment. It further means an intention to project strong and engaging imagery; imagery that illumines the beauty and glory of the African experience in the West.


Larry Neal (1937-1981)