Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1998
The cultural life of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s was largely the creation of southern expatriates. Think only of the writers Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson; the musicians Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Eubie Blake; and the painters William H. Johnson, Marvin Gray Johnson, and Archibald Motley Jr. (And note, by the way, the relative obscurity of the visual artists today.) Others, not born in the South, established lasting ties with the region, like the painter Aaron Douglas, who spent his life at Fisk University. For these artists, the South was often their subject, and even when it wasn’t it was likely to be lurking somewhere in the background.