NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club is an new exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of art that showcases artwork largely from the 1960’s, as well as the work of Jacob Lawrence.

In 1961, the Mbari club was founded in Nigeria as an eclectic collective of artists of all mediums including musicians, actors, writers and visual artists. Black Orpheus was a literary journal colored with Pan-African themes that resonated far beyond Nigeria and included the works of Jacob Lawrence.

Lawrence was a celebrated African American artist from New Jersey, who also spent time time living and painting in New Orleans. Lawrence later traveled to Nigeria. Over 125 works of the late Jacob Lawrence, as well as the work of a host of African artists from the time period are on display at the New Orleans Museum of art. It took five years to assemble the collection for an exhibit.

Ndubuisi Ezeluomba is the exhibit co-curator and describes a painting that is central to the exhibition, saying, “Jacob Lawrence’s Marketplace painting encapsulates the whole idea here.  The euphoria of independence in Africa in the 1960’s, was filled with excitement.  It captured the essence of the African marketplace in many African consciousnesses.  The marketplace is the point where many things meet and Jacob Lawrence captured that so vividly in his work.” 

The 1960’s were an important snapshot throughout the world, especially for people descended from the African diaspora. In the United States, the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was a fiery period that raged on and challenged the separate but equal ruling after reconstruction.

During the 1960’s in West Africa and throughout the world, colonialism was waning. In 1960, Nigeria was no longer under the British empire.

“The Black Orpheus is the title of the journal that was created to articulate all of the artistic events that was happening.  This new Africa was an Africa free from colonial entanglement.  The core of our work in this exhibition, was to capture this moment of the late 1950’s to 1967.  That is when the first iteration of the Black Orpheus journal was published,” says Ndubuisi Ezeluomba.

The collection is an opportunity to see connections of people from all over the world, including West Africans and African Americans. The art of the exhibition reflects themes of Nigerian market places, Christianity, African traditional spiritualism, food and colors of revelry.

Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club will be on display at the New Orleans Museum of art until May 7th.