Crisscrosses: Benny Andrews and the Poetry of Langston Hughes features a selection of illustrations that Andrews (1930-2006) created a year before his passing for the publication Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. Andrews is perhaps best known for two things: his built-up oil and collage canvases and his activism in the late 1960s and 70s, demanding that New York City museums exhibit and hire more women and people of color. However, illustration was always part of Andrews's artistic practice, from his work on the 1968 poetry collection I Am the Darker Brother to his brother Raymond's novels and a series of children's picture books published in the early 2000s.
The illustrations highlight Andrews's lifelong dedication to bringing fine art to spaces beyond galleries and museums, connections he referred to as the "crisscrosses" of his practice. For example, he led art classes in New York prisons and detention centers through his work with the Black Emergency Cultural Collation, taught art in the "Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge" program at Queens College, and created a series specifically for the Plainview Baptist Church in his native Morgan County, Georgia. By creating work for children's books, Andrews was able to reach kids and their families in their own homes, schools, and libraries. Andrews used his art as a tool for political activism and community building. His approach illuminates the importance of including the arts when creating interdisciplinary solutions to the interdisciplinary problems of our society.
Crisscrosses explores the "collaboration" between the self-described "people's painter" and Langston Hughes, "the people's poet." The pairing of the two artists, who never met, represents the continued use of social realism by Black American artists to illuminate socio-political concerns facing their people. Both artists used their respective mediums to reach new audiences and encourage them to engage intimately with their work. In these deceptively simple illustrations, Andrews creates dynamic worlds for Hughes's words to live in. At times, these works are literal representations of the poetry, but the majority reflect Andrews's personal interpretations. His creative liberty in translating Hughes's poems gives audiences young and old the space to find their own ways of connecting with and exploring the joys, tragedies, and sorrows of the Black American experience found in the poet's verse.
The Crisscrosses exhibition was developed through Nadia Scott’s summer 2023 internship with the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective and partner organizations the Andrews-Humphrey Family Foundation, the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, and the Carlos Museum.
About the Curator
Nadia Scott is a senior history major and curatorial studies minor attending Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. From a young age, she has been captivated by the power of the historical record. With keen interests in public history, education, and cultural heritage, Nadia's aspirations as an emerging historian are centered around breaking down barriers. She aims to make history more inclusive and approachable to a wide range of people. She believes that history shouldn't be confined to academic circles; rather, it should be an engaging and accessible narrative for everyone. Her research focuses on how visual culture impacts identity formation, nation-building, and ideas of citizenship. Following her graduation from Spelman, Nadia hopes to pursue a PhD in history. at Spelman, Nadia hopes to pursue a PhD in history.
Press release coming soon.
(detail) Benny Andrews, Harlem (Langston Hughes Series), 2005, oil on joined paper with painted fabric and paper collage. © Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.
Benny Andrews, Dream Variations (Langston Hughes Series), 2005, oil on joined paper with painted fabric and paper collage. © Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.
Benny Andrews, Harlem (Langston Hughes Series), 2005, oil on joined paper with painted fabric and paper collage. © Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.