International Conference on the Black Arts Movement


By Ayodele Nzinga, M.F.A., Ph.D.

On the first and second of the International Conference on the Black Arts Movement (BAM) was held at the University of California, at Merced. BAM pioneers and a chorus of activist influenced by BAM presented and performed before a diverse and appreciative audience over the two-day array of panels, lectures, and cultural offerings.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the Black Arts Movement refers to the mantel for a collective body of works that grew out of the efforts of North American Africans to define a black aesthetic that enabled and supported action on issues that compromise(d) the quality of life for marginalized people. It is not possible or even practical to divide the strands of the fabric of BAM as is often attempted; its social, political, and artistic strands, like the elements of Hip Hop, are interrelated and inseparable.

The social upheaval of the 1960′s was fomented by the struggle of North American Africans to create Black political and social institutions that advanced Black values and promoted Black collective interest. In addition to these institutions, the struggle birthed an affirmation: “Black is Beautiful”. It was a declaration of racial pride and a new lens for viewing, embracing, and voicing the Black experience in America. BAM refers to the artistic expression of that new sentiment.

BAM changed the world. Its significance was far reaching. It offered another way to look at art as a whole by challenging the notion of art for art’s sake. It moved “art for the people” beyond binarized definitions of “fine” and “folk” art. It encouraged us to re-imagine collective activism and offered models for implementing change by community service. Its fruits inform(ed) activism on a global scale. A cursory look allows one to trace the effect of BAM on global social movements and the mobilization of other marginalized populations. The period and its artifacts served as a catalyst for many who continue to create work that draws from and speaks to the continuum of the North American African experience.


Graduate student Kim McMillon organized the conference with the guidance of Marvin X, West Coast BAM progenitor. McMillon said, “The work of the Black Arts movement served as inspiration for many later artists, especially those from marginalized communities, and thus has shaped the flowering of artistic work over the last 40 years.” The conference opened with a gala hosted by Belva Davis at The Merced Art Center. A revolutionary art installation curated by Greg Morozumi honoring Amiri Baraka and his contribution to Black Arts was an integral part of the evening.

Askia Toure defined BAM as, “a cultural revolution” that inspired an international dialog. Toure spoke on the global focus and dissemination of the twelve major North American African journals that sustained the dynamic discourse of the movement for over a decade.

Marvin X Baraka orchestrated an ensemble of poets that included Umar Bin Hassan, Eugene Redmond, Genny Lim, Avotcja, WordSlanger, and musicians Tarika Lewis, Tacuma King, Earl Davis, and Zana Allen in an exhibition of Sound, Word, and Power. Supported by BAM artists, Greg Morozumi, and others inspired by Merced’s grand tribute to the movement that moved the world; Marvin X is contemplating a BAM tour of the 27 cities that the ever present Amiri Baraka considered the cornerstone of the liminal space of the Nation in the Nation.

Cross posted with Oakland Local.


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