The Freedom Principle

This last weekend I ran away to Philadelphia and saw at the ICA an exhibition, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music 1965- now.

Largely about the Chicago art and music scene in the 60’s- from 2 groups formed at the time the AACM and AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). There I saw Revolutionary, a painting of Angela Davis, in a suit created by the artist himself, Wadsworth Jarrell.

I had heard about Jarrell a while ago, exploring text artists online, and so this was a fantastic and unexpected opportunity to see a couple of his paintings in person.


liberation soldiers- w jarrell.jpg

Wadsworth Jarrell- Revolutionary, Liberation Soldiers.

As part of AfriCOBRA, text was folded into artists work to form a manifesto of sorts, slogans that could not be misinterpreted, at the time, or in the future, and although that makes them definitely  of that period of time, it was also a way for a positive message to be permanently brought into history, tattooed into time.

Jae Jarrell, on talking about AfriCOBRA noted, “And that’s, that’s something that is an advantage of working in a group, and having honed our own language—what we want, directing you what to see, not leaving ourselves, our work, at the mercies of the critics, to interpret. We clearly wrote on the canvases and garments and tapestries, exactly what we wanted you to know, and say. And that can be a hindrance in a way, because critics are held to the posture that we set forth, but nonetheless, it holds true. You see the stuff later; you can’t read anything into it but what’s in it. And I think it’s strong.”*

Not in the exhibition, but also heavily featuring lettering in their work, are fellow AfriCOBRA members Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams **

gerald williams.jpgjones-hogu-to-be-free.jpgbarbara hogu jones.jpgstevens-uhuru-lg-l.jpg

Carolyn Mims Lawrence.jpg

Gerald Williams- Wake Up

Barbara Jones-Hogu- To Be Free ( Know the Past, Prepare for the Future), 2.

Nelson Stevens- Uhuru

Caroline Mims- Uphold your Men

“Each artist had his or her own way of presenting the lettering, resolving their lettering into the artwork. That was part of our principles: introducing statements into the art.” – Wadsworth Jarrell*, and this was definitely true of Jones- Hogu and Williams, those statements were easily read, while others were more covert, “you might not ever see some of the lettering and statements that’s in the art.” *

Jeff Donaldson was a co-founder of AfriCOBRA,  and contributed to Chicago’s famous War of Respect with the other AfriCOBRA members, so I feel I should mention his work,  although he appears to be one of the few without lettering. Although his work uses the frenetic energy created by AfriCOBRA,  he chose to use references and symbols rather than actual text. He described their style as “high energy colour, rhythmic linear effects, flat patterning, form-filled composition and picture plane compartmentalization [,]” which differs from Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell’s manifesto and his work demonstrates it- following a more mosaic style, that Jarrell’s encapsulates, using figurative rather than textual references.

Jeff Donaldson- JamPact JelliTite (for Jamila)



** and

For more info see:

The Freedom Principle at the ICA Philadephia- until March 2017



Wadsworth Jarrell- Identity.


About textversusart

Visual Artist and Costume Designer, based in NYC.
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