Barbara Jones-Hogu remembered on Culture Type

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THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT has lost a central figure. Barbara Jones-Hogu (1938-2017), a founding member of the artist collective AfriCOBRA, died Nov. 14. The Chicago artist, educator, and filmmaker, was 79.

Recognized for her political, pro-Black images combining figuration with energetic, graphic lettering, Jones-Hogu is closely identified with a 1969/71 print titled, “Unite.” In recent years, the work has been featured in major group exhibitions documenting the contributions and expressions of African American artists during the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power eras, including “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” the seminal show organized by the Tate Modern in London. In January 2018, “Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite 1968-1975,” her first-ever solo museum exhibition opens at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Jones-Hogu had been living for about two years at an assisted living facility in Chicago Heights, Ill. Her passing was confirmed to Culture Type by her son Kuumba Hogu of Chicago and her art dealer David Lusenhop of Cleveland, Ohio.

“I want my mother to be remembered by the artworks she has done. It is the legacy she left behind. It was her life as she saw fit. …My mother, was my mother. She was and still is a Queen in my eyes,” Hogu, 43, said via email.

“Barbara wants to be known as someone who offered positive, uplifting, strong, and inspirational images to her people. What she means are African-descended people. More than any interest in the legacy of herself in art history, she wanted to be known as someone who supported the physical, spiritual, and intellectual liberation of black people around the world and that’s how she put it,” Lusenhop told me.

“Barbara wants to be known as someone who offered positive, uplifting, strong, and inspirational images to her people. What she means are African-descended people.” — David Lusenhop

JONES-HOGU WAS AT THE CENTER of the black arts scene in 1960s Chicago. As a member of the Visual Artists Workshop of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), she helped paint the Wall of Respect on Chicago’s South Side in 1967. Paying tribute to more than 50 African American figures, the project is regarded as the first collective street mural in the United States. It revived the mural movement in neighborhoods across the nation, black ones in particular.

Jones-Hogu later wrote that the Wall of Respect “became a visual symbol of Black nationalism and liberation.” Earlier this year, an article in the Chicago Tribune revisited the mural, describing it as a “revolutionary act of art and politics” and “unprecedented assertion of black identity.”

In 1968, the year after contributing to the legendary mural, Jones-Hogu helped co-found AfriCOBRA, an artist collective with Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004), Wadsworth Jarrell, Jae Jarrell, and Gerald Williams. (Donaldson and Wadsworth Jarrell were active in OBAC, too.) Initially called COBRA, then African COBRA, the group settled on the name AfriCOBRA, which stands for African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. The collective focused on positive, powerful, and uplifting images of black people.

The group held regular meetings in Jarrell’s studio and established a set of principles and a collective aesthetic. Their visual themes included syncopated, rhythmic repetition; balance between abstraction and absolute likeness; bright harmonious colors; and active lettering, which was Jones-Hogu’s contribution. In the wake of racism and injustice, AfriCOBRA produced work that put forth a visual counter-narrative that was about affirmation of African American heritage. The goal was to change the community’s mindset and positively influence its outlook.

In “AfriCOBRA: Art For The People,” a 2011 documentary that aired on TV Land, Jones-Hogu said, “The people we were making art for looked like us.”

OVER THE PAST WEEK, I have been in touch with several people who have known Jones-Hugo in Chicago, from the early days half a century ago when she was a university student to more recent years when a new generation of scholars and curators began to study her work and seek it out for inclusion in books and museum exhibitions.

Jarrell told me he had been friends with Jones-Hogu since the early 1960s (he also worked on the Wall of Respect), and his wife, Jae Jarrell, formed a friendship with her starting in 1968 when AfriCOBRA was founded.

“When Barbara was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1960s, there were memorable parties at Barbara’s house as well as at my studio where numerous artists and friends attended. Barbara was quite a dancer during that time.” Jarrell said via email.

“Her work was of high quality and inventiveness, and always encompassed themes of Black consciousness. She will truly be missed as a dear friend, a mother, and as a creative person whose legacy will be remembered in history–Barbara was living history.”

“[Barbara’s] work was of high quality and inventiveness, and always encompassed themes of Black consciousness. She will truly be missed as a dear friend, a mother, and as a creative person whose legacy will be remembered in history–Barbara was living history.” — Wadsworth Jarrell

Indeed her legacy is finally being recognized. In addition to “Soul of a Nation,” her work appears in “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now,” and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85,” recent and current traveling exhibitions, organized by important museums, that have received rave reviews.

Rebecca Zorach, a Northwestern University art historian, first met Jones-Hogu in Hyde Park around 2008. A group of her students were curating an exhibition that included some of the artist’s work from the South Side Community Art Center. “Barbara was a brilliant artist, and a thoughtful person with a wry sense of humor,” Zorach told me in an email message. “I saw her many times over the subsequent years. She was very modest—she always seemed a little surprised that I thought her work was so special and important. She was always quite private, but very kind and generous with her time and with memories of her life as an artist.”

Lusenhop, the art dealer who has known Jones-Hogu for 13 years and represented her for a decade, said the same thing. He told me repeatedly that she was a very private person, but that she was giving when it came to talking about her practice and sharing her experiences as an artist and printmaker.

“As people were paying more attention to her, she began to open up and share much more. Even though she was private, she was very generous with sharing her legacy, especially with women and especially with women of color, that interviewed her. She was very devoted to the idea that young women of color had opportunities now that she didn’t and she was going to support them by sharing her history with them,” Lusenhop said.

“When she glowed, when I saw her get really excited, was when all of these young scholars that are coming out of programs, like Kellie Jones’s program in New York at Columbia or Steven Nelson’s program at UCLA. When young black scholars came to her, she just loved it. She was very pleased to have this first solo show coming up at Depaul Art Museum, which is going to be part of this much larger celebration of Chicago art of the 1960s and 70s.”


BARBARA JONES-HOGU, “Untitled,” 1969 (screenprint). | © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art

BORN IN CHICAGO, Jones-Hogu earned undergraduate degrees from Howard University, where she studied teaching, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, she concentrated on printmaking and received an MS degree. She briefly served on the board of the South Side Community Art Center, where her work was first exhibited in the early 1970s. Education was a constant throughout her career. Jones-Hogu taught at Malcolm X College in Chicago for more than three decades. In her early 70s, she returned to graduate school to study filmmaking.

Early on, Jones-Hogu became known for her printmaking. In a 2011 interview with Zorach, she talked at length about her prints, explained her introduction to the medium, and how it served her creative objectives.

“When I went to the Art Institute I wanted to major in painting. Their major was Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking, so I had to take courses in those three areas. That’s how I really got into doing prints because I took courses in various methods of wood block, wood engraving, etching, lithography and screen-printing. I really enjoyed creating images in all of the different methods. In these courses my interest in printmaking was deepened,” Jones-Hogu said.

“I really got into doing prints because I took courses in various methods of wood block, wood engraving, etching, lithography and screen-printing. I really enjoyed creating images in all of the different methods. In these courses my interest in printmaking was deepened.” — Barbara Jones-Hogu

“[At the Illinois Institute of Design] I continued working in woodcut, etching, and lithography at first and then later screen-printing. Screen-printing became my main method of creating in the last years of my part-time studies and that is only because my woodcutting tools had been stolen and at that point I was more interested in working in color.”

AfriCOBRA members were painters, textile designers, photographers and sculptors. Jones-Hogu was 30 and still a part time student at ITT when she helped organize the collective. Her printmaking skills and experience set her apart and were critical to the group’s mission. Producing prints was political and democratic, allowing the collective to distribute its work to more people at affordable prices. As Jones-Hogu told Zorach, “everyone who wanted one could have one.”

AfriCOBRA’s renown grew beyond Chicago with national recognition that came from a series of traveling exhibitions. The first two shows were organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1970 (“AfriCobra 1: Ten in Search of a Nation”) and 1971 (“Africobra II”), and included work by additional members.

AFTER DONALDSON PENNED AfriCOBRA’s manifesto in the October 1970 edition of Black World magazine, Jones-Hogu prepared a more detailed draft of the group’s philosophical concepts and aesthetic principles in 1973, expanding upon Donaldson’s version. A new, slightly revised iteration of her statement was published in 2008.

“Africobra’s, and Jones-Hogu’s, creed was that artists have a role in changing society and that, in doing so, they don’t have to make a false choice between their social responsibilities and artistic excellence. Before it was a rallying cry, Jones-‎Hogu truly believed that Black lives do matter and Black beauty is to be loved and cherished,” MCA Chicago Curator Naomi Beckwith said via email.

“My co-curator and I knew that ‘The Freedom Principle’ would not be complete without Jones-Hogu’s work or her advocacy. I am so happy to see renewed interest in her work‎ now and hope to see sustained research in this key American artist.”

Jarrell also emphasized her impact on the group. “She was very active in helping form the AFRICOBRA philosophy with important suggestions and ideas,” he told me. “When the collective embarked on the commitment of reproducing high quality hand-pulled prints from our work, Barbara had expertise in the serigraphy process, while the process was new to the remainder of members. This made her responsible for the production of AFRICOBRA prints.”


Barbara Jones-Hogu in her studio, circa 1968. | Photographer unknown, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art

SHE HAD A PROFOUND INFLUENCE on the group and, at the same time, participating in the collective transformed the way she approached her individual work. Prior to AfriCOBRA, Jones-Hogu’s subject matter was anti-establishment and focused on factors negatively impacting the black community. Rather than dwelling on the negative, the collective accentuated the positive.

“I was already into doing political content when I was at IIT. You know, most of my woodcuts were political. In fact, most of my images were political but took a negative viewpoint from a racial standpoint when creating a critique of our multiple racial societies,” Jones-Hogu told Zorach.

“I would say the content shifted and became more positive after I went into AFRICOBRA, because I was basically wanting to give a message in terms of action, direction, and ideas to think about to my people as the viewer, whereas the prints that I did before were always an indictment for contemplation and action against the society in which we live.”

“I would say the content shifted and became more positive after I went into AFRICOBRA, because I was basically wanting to give a message in terms of action, direction, and ideas to think about to my people as the viewer, whereas the prints that I did before were always an indictment for contemplation and action against the society in which we live.”
— Barbara Jones-Hogu

Her prints were visually complex and in terms of subject matter focused on black women in the liberation movement, solidarity in the black community, and preserving the black family. Titles of her works include, “Rise and Take Control” (1970), “Relate to Your Heritage” (1970), and “Black Men We Need You” (circa 1971). The latter print, which includes lettering that says “Black men we need you. Leave those white bitches alone,” is in the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Decades later, Lusenhop said Jones-Hogu was amused by the message. “All the old revolutionaries look back and smile at there youthful brashness. It was quite serious, though. It was a revolution. They weren’t playing,” he said.

Her most well known print, “Unite,” depicts a series of black figures with their fists raised. Above them, the word “Unite” is repeated and rendered graphically. The image was inspired by an Elizabeth Catlett sculpture, “Homage to My Young Black Sisters” (1968). Jones-Hogu was in Mexico in the summer of 1968. She told Zorach she didn’t go to the Olympics, but she visited Catlett’s studio. “She was working on an abstract sculpture of a woman with an upstretched arm and hand, and I thought that was a good idea. It was a Black Power stance. I thought we as a people should unite as a people under this concept. I have a photograph of [U.S. Olympians] Tommie Smith and John Carlos doing this,” the artist said.

Beckwith wrote the following about “Unite” in the catalog for “Freedom Principle”:

    …Unlike other artworks of her peers, in which lettering is embedded into images to form patterns, Jones-Hogu’s poster produces art “by and for black people” by both figuring a black ensemble of anonymous figures (rather than heroes)—a mirror to its perceived audience—and then making a verbal demand on said audience, underscored by the figure turned toward us. Even by insisting that an artwork be read, Jones-Hogu (and other AfriCOBRA artists) preemptively acknowledged the presence of a viewer or audience. The work emulates call-and-response, a feature of many black musical traditions, while also expressing an awareness of how artworks must register the “spatio-temporal matrices in which they’re embedded,” as conceptual art pioneer Adrian Piper put it. Like Piper, the AfriCOBRA artists turned to language to pull art out of the self-referental, modernist modes predominant in the mid-twentieth century. They moved toward an intersubjective communication with the viewer. As with so many of AfriCOBRA’s combined image/text works, Jones-Hogu’s Unite (AfriCOBRA) contains an imperative to call into being a physically transformed person—in this case, one newly committed to black solidarity—while also presuming that this person addressed by the poster already existed, ready to be recognized in the moment of encountering the poster. Jones-Hogu recognizes and invokes a collective subjectivity that at once includes and exceeds the artist and her public: here is a “we.”

Jones-Hogu produced two versions of “Unite.” She initially created the print in 1969 before she joined AfriCOBRA. In 1971, when she was a member of the collective, she printed a second version, which is distinguished by an AfriCOBRA marking that was incorporated into the screen. Stamped below the image in the lower left-hand corner it states “AfriCOBRA, Print $10, Copyright 1971.”


BARBARA JONES-HOGU, “Rise and Take Control,” 1970 (screenprint). | © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art

LUSENHOP MET JONES-HOGU in 2004. He said he was with Robert Henry Adams Fine Art in Chicago at the time, and under his direction the River North gallery specialized in African American historical art. Lusenhop presented an exhibition called, “New Deal to New Power,” which examined connections between African American WPA artists and artists working during the Black Art Movement.

“Unite” was included in the show and during the opening, Lusehop said she walked in toward the end: “She came up to me and said, ‘Why didn’t I get an invitation to this because my work’s in the show.’ And I said, ‘Ms. Jones-Hogu, we’re honored to have you. I didn’t know how to reach you.’ And from that moment on, we became fast friends.”

“The ‘Unite’ print that was in that first show, which was the first one I ever handled by her, is now the same print that is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago,” Lusenhop said. “They acquired it out of that show, which was a big deal in terms of beginning to get her work back out into the world.”

Versions of “Unite” are also in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Lusenhop opened his own gallery in 2006 and said he began representing Jones-Hogu in 2007. It was her first formal relationship with a gallery.

“Most AfriCOBRA artists were never represented, certainly not exclusively, by any single dealer. Part of their whole philosophy was wrapped up in the idea of self representation and that was part of their black liberation theology, if you will,” Lusenhop said. “They certainly weren’t represented by mainstream or white galleries and had no interest really in collaborating with mainstream institutions, which is why a lot of their work didn’t enter a lot of larger public, mainstream collections until recently. They would intentionally and typically only work with culturally specific institutions like the Studio Museum in Harlem or Hampton University Museum or Howard University Gallery of Art.”

“Most AfriCOBRA artists were never represented, certainly not exclusively, by any single dealer. Part of their whole philosophy was wrapped up in the idea of self representation and that was part of their black liberation theology… They certainly weren’t represented by mainstream or white galleries and had no interest really in collaborating with mainstream institutions.” — David Lusenhop

Given this, I asked Lusenhop, who is white, why Jones-Hogu was willing to work with his gallery. What was his understanding? Had her disposition changed over the years?

“Well, I think… I knew a lot about the history and she appreciated that and you know truthfully my politics align I think with hers and a lot of the AfriCOBRA artists,” Lusenhop said. “I believe strongly in telling the real story of American art history, which was not told in large part because of racist and exclusionary practices on the part of historians, scholars, and art museums. This is something I was working on for years before I met Barbara in terms of my issues and politics surrounding public collections. I think she appreciated that as a beginning.”


Barbara Jones-Hogu at Hummingbird Press working on “God’s Child” in 2009. | Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art

AS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of AfriCOBRA approaches in 2018, the collective’s founders are being recognized, and their work is being studied and collected. “Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell” just opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Gerald Williams recently joined Kavi Gupta gallery in Chicago, where a solo exhibition of his work is on view through Dec. 2. “Jeff Donaldson: Dig” opens Jan. 20 at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. It’s the late artist’s first museum retrospective.

Meanwhile, a new Chicago mural by Kerry James Marshall honors women who have shaped the city’s cultural landscape, including Jones-Hogu. She is also finally getting her first solo museum show. Opening Jan. 11 at the DePaul Art Museum, the exhibition will feature work produced between 1968 and 1975.

Julie Rodrigues Widholm, director and chief curator of the museum, told me the genesis was the celebration earlier this year of the 50th anniversary of the Wall of Respect.

“We started thinking about how the DePaul Art Museum could contribute a program or exhibition to the celebration and I started looking at the female artists who were involved in the Wall of Respect and Barbara’s work really jumped out at me,” said Widholm.

“Although she was an important co-founder of AfriCOBRA and contributor to the Black Arts Movement, we wanted to bring attention to her unique artistic accomplishments which had never been presented in a solo museum exhibition. We thought it was really time to examine her contributions more closely and to give her the recognition she so deserves.”

“We wanted to bring attention to her unique artistic accomplishments which had never been presented in a solo museum exhibition. We thought it was really time to examine her unique accomplishments and contributions more closely and to give her the recognition she so deserves.”
— Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Director, DePaul Art Museum

Widholm called Lusenhop and asked why Jones-Hogu hadn’t had solo show, noting some of her contemporaries had been given such attention.

“One reason Barbara hadn’t shown is because people didn’t realize how much work she had. She is known for ‘Unite’ and a handful of other prints and she had told people she didn’t do that much else,” Lusenhop said. “But when Kuumba and I moved her to the nursing home, Rebecca [Zorach] went down and helped me go through things and we found a life’s work and an extraordinary number of really ambitious large-scale, technically proficient, gorgeous prints. Julie and I were talking about the show at the same time and there was enough to put together a really strong survey of these five central years of her life.”

The exhibition presents about 20 works—all of her major prints and a selection of drawings from a closely held sketchbook. “They are not only studies for the prints, indicating how she worked them out, but it shows her to be a fabulous draftsman, too. She drew exceptionally well,” Lusenhop said.

A catalog is being published to document the exhibition. Announced earlier this month, a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art is funding the volume, which is Jones-Hogu’s first monograph. Tate Museum Curator Zoe Whitley, who co-organized “Soul of a Nation” and Chicago-based contemporary artist Faheem Majeed, who served as executive director and curator of the South Side Community Art Center (2005-2011), are contributing essays to the catalog. A conversation between Jones-Hogu and Zorach will also be included.

“Her work is so powerful both aesthetically and politically. It has a lot of messages in the work that continue to resonate today. We are 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and her work continues to resonate with a lot of the social concerns today around racism and oppression,” Widholm said.

“It has coincided with a resurgence in interest in the AfriCOBRA artists and we as an institution are very committed to presenting the work of Chicago based artists, overlooked artists, under-recognized artists and bringing them into the center. We at our core want to expand the canon and we thought that Barbara was absolutely needed to be recognized.” CT


BARBARA JONES-HOGU, “When Styling,” 1973 (screenprint). | © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art


BARBARA JONES-HOGU, “Relate to Your Heritage,” 1970 (screenprint). | © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art