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Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial ReinventionThe Old Negro in New Negro Art$
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Phoebe Wolfskill

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041143

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041143.001.0001

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Migration, Class, and Black Religiosity

Migration, Class, and Black Religiosity

(p.61) 3 Migration, Class, and Black Religiosity
Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention

Phoebe Wolfskill

University of Illinois Press

Chapter 3 examines the ways in which Motley, alongside numerous black and nonblack artists and scholars, explored religious affiliation as an indicator of socioeconomic class. While Motley renders demonstrative forms of worship through genre scenes of modernist abbreviation and stereotypical figuration, two delicate portraits position his paternal grandmother and himself as contemplative Catholics surrounded by the accouterments of middle-class life. Analyzing Motley’s attention to religiosity alongside the appearance of demonstrative religion in works by Thomas Hart Benton and Jacob Lawrence, the chapter considers the ways in which artistic focus on religious practices spoke to the desire to preserve and respect indigenous customs, while also positioning them as possessing an emotional power at odds with a modern society deemed rational and progressive. The chapter thus considers how Motley contributes not only to an occasionally problematic articulation of Old and New Negroes, but also to a larger discussion of class, regional difference, and bias within American scene art.

Keywords:   socioeconomic class, stereotype, Christianity, African American, Pentecostals, storefront churches, Catholics, Benton, Lawrence, migration

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