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Taboo

Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917 - 2000

Geography:
Made in United States, North and Central America

Date:
1963

Medium:
Tempera on hardboard

Dimensions:
27 3/4 x 31 7/8 inches (70.5 x 81 cm)

Copyright:
© Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2002-85-1

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of the Zelda and Josef Jaffe Family, 2002

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african american [x]   black art [x]   interracial [x]   marriage [x]   nhd 1945 to 1975 culture [x]   nhd 1945 to 1975 political [x]   race politics [x]  


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Label:
Throughout his career, Lawrence demonstrated a passionate interest in African American history and in his people’s collective struggle for racial equality. Painted in vibrant colors, Taboo exemplifies the artist’s planar style and his lifelong concern for civil rights and justice. The two pairs of newlyweds are posed in the manner of a traditional wedding portrait. However, as the title indicates, Lawrence’s couples have had to overcome the obstacles of legal and societal censure, breaking the taboo against marrying outside of their race.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Throughout his long and distinguished career, Jacob Lawrence demonstrated a passionate interest in African American history and in his people's collective struggle for racial equality. Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Lawrence spent much of his early childhood in Pennsylvania, before moving with his family to Harlem in 1930. The burgeoning cultural scene of the Harlem Renaissance nurtured the prodigious young artist, who quickly developed his own inimitable approach to painting while studying at the Harlem Art Workshop. Working in bright primary colors and flat, cutout shapes in a narrative representational style, Lawrence explored African American themes, many of which had never before been used as subject matter in the history of Western art.

    Executed in vibrant tempera colors, Taboo exemplifies Lawrence's expressive trademark style as well as his lifelong concern for social equality and justice. The painting comes from a period in the artist's career when he turned to civil rights issues, inspired by the struggles for integration in the American South. Here he depicts two pairs of newlyweds, linked arm in arm, who stiffly face us as in a traditional, formal wedding portrait: on the one side, we see a white groom and a black bride, and on the other, a black groom and a white bride. The painting's title alerts us to the social transgression of this double wedding, since in 1963 there were still anti-miscegenation statutes in several states forbidding interracial marriage. However, Lawrence's pair of finely attired, newly married couples have proudly overcome the obstacles of legal and societal censure, thus breaking the taboo against marrying outside of their race, in a gesture of extreme courage. Michael Taylor, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 140.

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