Group Head, Fine Art, U.K
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"We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves." In this his essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, American writer and poet Langston Hughes makes the case for the celebrating blackness.
He describes "the mountain" as the pressure to assimilate into white culture and American standardization as something we must overcome to fully be free. His final line evokes a hopefulness for his fellow artists but it rings true for all of us.
During the Harlem Renaissance many American writers, thinkers, and artists actively sought out the ancestry from which they had been severed as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, the histories that had been erased, the artistry that had been lost. The theme And Still We Rise recognizes those who resisted, rose above and succeeded. Many of the artists of this period fit that category as the act of being an artist itself is an act of resistance - especially considering the times marked by Jim Crow, World War, Great Migration and Great Depression. Still though we can look to the art, the motifs and the themes for hope. Hope for ourselves and hope for our future.
I look to these artists for guidance to envision a world where young people can rise. On the globe we can see a futuristic city on the horizon, from the distance children walk, run and play, returning to an ancestral land. At the top they gaze at the stars, free. Sprinkled throughout are references to those who rose, Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, Langston Hughes, and a sankofa bird reminding us we take from the past what is good and bring it into the present to make a better future. Together.
Vashti Harrison is a #1 New York Times-bestselling author-illustrator of children's books. She has a background in filmmaking and a love for storytelling. She is the author and illustrator of the best-selling middle grade books Little Leaders, Little Dreamers, Little Legends, and the illustrator of the best-selling picture books Hair Love by Matthew Cherry and Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o, which received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Vashti is also a two-time recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. Originally from Onley, Virginia, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY.