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John Outterbridge, "Traditional Hang-Up, Containment Series", 1969, mixed media, 30 by 25 by 3 inches

John Outterbridge
Traditional Hang-Up, Containment Series, 1969
Mixed media
30 x 25 x 3 inches

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists made over two decades, beginning in 1963 at the height of the civil rights movement. Soul of a Nation explores how social justice movements, as well as stylistic evolutions in visual art (such as Minimalism and abstraction), were powerfully expressed in the work of artists including Romare Bearden, Barkley Hendricks, Noah Purifoy, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Alma Thomas, Charles White, and William T. Williams. Los Angeles-based artists appear throughout Soul of a Nation, and more deeply in three specific galleries, foregrounding the significant role of Los Angeles in the art and history of the civil rights movement and the subsequent activist era, and the critical influence and sustained originality of the city’s artists, many of whom have lacked wider recognition.


John Outterbridge showed his Containment series at the Brockman Gallery in 1970. He borrowed tools from sculptor Mark di Suvero to cut the metal for these works. He said, "To contain is to hamper investigation and growth...Containment of even the least human worth is to smother the existence of new horizons." Outterbridge linked containment to the experience of Black life in America. He expressed the idea of containment by compressing elements and using belt straps. Some titles from the series reference a history of oppression, such as Strange Fruit, named after a song made famous by Billie Holiday about the history of lynching. Later, in his Ethnic Heritage series, he drew on his memories of rituals in the South to make small doll-like figures out of found materials.